I have just started on what I suspect will be a long, slow discernment project.
It all began when I was reminded of the trips my parents used to take me and my three brothers on in the summer. We had a big Ford Falcon station wagon behind which we pulled a small caravan. It was so small in fact that we called it “the pimple.” However, it was perfect for the many adventurous trips we made across the dry and dusty roads of the Australian outback.
On one occasion, we were barreling along at a pretty good pace when we noticed someone standing in the middle of the road waving his hands. We pulled off beside him a little hesitantly as there were no other cars in sight and probably no one else would pass that way for another hour or two. “I’m not drunk and I’m not crazy,” he exclaimed, “but what way was I going?” He had pulled off at right angles to the road to have a stretch break and could not remember which direction he had come from. He had failed to take notice of the distinguishing features of this seemingly featureless plain that could help him move forward in the right direction.
Stop, Look, Listen
I felt a bit like that this week, and I know that many of you do, too. We feel as though we have pulled off at right angles to the road of life and are not sure how to find direction. How do we find direction when the landscape around us looks so unfamiliar that we don’t know where we are heading?
My initial response was to get busy and move ahead on one of the many ideas and projects swirling round in my brain. Then I felt God nudge me. Stop, look, listen, do some discernment before you move forward. So I have pulled out a new journal that I will use specifically for this time of discernment, and hunted for my two favourite books on discernment: Discernment by Henri Nouwen and The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert. They will, I know, provide wonderful guides over the next few weeks and I am excited by where this will lead.
I think that many of us are trying to discern what the future holds. There seems to be so much darkness in our world at the moment and many of us are finding it hard to see the path ahead. “We are always on a journey from darkness into light,” says John O’Donohue in Anam Cara, which reminds me that seeds germinate in darkness, and I think that the darkness of these days is fertile ground for new seeds to emerge. That thought was reinforced this morning by a quote from Mo Thomas, “Never ever underestimate the raw power contained in a single seed of Christ’s love.”
Periodic times of introspection and discernment are good for our souls, and so I wait to see what seeds God is germinating in me. I thought that you might like to share in some of this discernment process with me and encourage your congregation to do the same.
Know Where You Are Coming From
First, like that man by the side of the road, I realize that I need to know where I am coming from before I think about where I am heading to. We could not point him in the right direction without knowing where his journey began.
Looking back over my old journals is one of the best ways I know to do this and for this discernment process I have framed two important questions to help me:
Firstly, “What are the beliefs that give you a sense of stability and assurance as you look to the future?”
This question in particular has become an important focus over the last few days. I start not with my own desires but with God’s overall purpose for me and for our world. A wonderful phrase from the New Zealand Moari Lord’s Prayer resounds in my mind: “May the hallowing of God’s name echo through the universe.” My deepest desire is that all that I am and all that I do will contribute to the hallowing of God’s name until it echoes through the universe. This is the ground on which I want to build my future.
At this stage, that means that each discernment session I hold will begin with the hallowing of God’s name and a drawing in of knowledge of the holiness of God.
My second question: “What are the unique gifts you bring to the world?” is one that I talked about with my life coach three years ago. It provided the foundation out of which I wrote The Gift of Wonder and has fueled my ongoing journey into the wonderment of God and of our world. I am excited about where it might take me in the future.What are the beliefs that give you a sense of stability and assurance as you look to the future? ~ Christine Sine Click To Tweet
What Helps You Find Direction?
I am not ashamed to admit that I need lots of help in a process like this. Not only have I pulled out my favourite books on discernment, but I have also pulled out my favourite tools: my finger labyrinth – so good to use when I am struggling with a challenging question, and my doodling tools – not hard, as all that it requires is some blank paper and a few coloured pens.
My first doodle, photographed above, has stunned me with its clarity – the image that emerged shows a heart and a womb clearly, at least to me, a very appropriate place for my journey to begin. If you are not familiar with doodling as a spiritual tool you might like to check out this video reflection.
A place from which God’s love flows and a place in which God’s seeds germinate. That’s probably enough to keep me thinking for the rest of the year.
I am also recruiting a couple of close friends to help me on the journey. There is no better person to help us move forward in the way that God wants us to than a friend who knows where we are coming from and has no pretensions about where we might be able to go in the future.
So I begin and this quote from Henri Nouwen starts me on the journey:
Discernment is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.Henri Nouwen Discernment xv
There are many effective discernment processes that we can follow. You might like to check out this comprehensive list in the Godspace resources. Take time at this important season to look for one that suits you and join me in discerning your path ahead. I am sure you will find exciting and unexpected things emerge.
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