When I think of discernment I always think of a line from Isaiah the prophet in Chapter 50… “Each morning God awakens me to hear, to listen like a disciple. God has opened my ear that I might have a word to speak to the weary.” Each morning! This kind of listening is what is required if we are to be discerning people. Each day God speaks in a variety of ways through our own hopes, desires, inner stirrings, insights; through Scripture, news reports, world events, other people. It is for us to listen. What stirs us, draws us, nudges us, inspires us, disturbs us? God’s voice might be heard through any or all of these.
The word discernment comes from the Greek word, diakrisis, from which we get the English word crisis. We usually associate crisis with a terrible event but that’s not what the Greek means. Rather krisis means a turning point --- a moment of choice. Deuteronomy 30:19 puts it in clear and sharp terms: “I set before you life or death: choose life so you and your descendants shall live.” Discernment is the grace that enables us to make daily choices that lead us to greater life for ourselves and for our families, communities, world. Through discernment we can discover that greater “life in abundance” which Jesus promises in John 10. We are co-creators of our life (of our world, for that matter) through our mutual relationship with God. As with good friends or partners good decisions come through much honest communication and deep listening. So it is in our relationship with God.
Prayer is the heart of discernment. We look, listen, and share with God our thoughts and desires, our questions and concerns. We read scripture, poetry or other spiritual writers. We listen to music or God’s voice spoken in the world of nature. We listen to other’s voices, especially those who know us well and desire our good and possibly a spiritual companion or mentor. All of these help us to see with God’s eyes, to listen to God’s heart.
The more we grow in this mutual relationship with God by sharing our whole selves, by being open and honest with God, with ourselves, with some significant others we learn to “listen like a disciple” and to grow into a discerning way of life. Then, in time we might become like lifelong friends or an old married couple who can anticipate the other’s need or viewpoint before it is expressed. This discerning way of life helps us to fine-tune our ability to listen to the Spirit and to our deepest truest self. It doesn’t mean that we will always make the best decision. We will probably make some mistakes but in the wise and encouraging words of St. Julie, the foundress of our own congregation, “Better mistakes than paralysis.” What we do know is that we have made our choices with an open heart with God and that can bring us a deep inner peace knowing that ultimately, as the mystic Hildegard of Bingen assures us “we are always encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.”