Posted by: Titus Presler | December 12, 2011

Discernment: Meditation for Advent III Monday

Recognizing signs inside and outside ourselves, understanding what God may be up to, picking our way forward, joining God’s mission in the world – all this is a matter of discernment.

Most basically, to discern is simply to see or perceive.  On a foggy day, we might just barely discern the outline of a bridge.  In the spiritual life, discernment is understood as a complex process of coming to clarity with ourselves and in relationship with God about the conditions and possibilities of our lives.

“Discernment can be characterized,” writes Elisabeth Koenig, “as a process that encourages seeing clearly enough to make well-considered decisions which integrate the multiple dimensions of life with a particular concern for transcendent reality.  In our tradition, we call that transcendent reality God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”

Sometimes discernment happens through a long and painful period of searching.  Sometimes it comes in a flash of insight and conviction.  Whatever the details, discernment occurs in an environment of transparency with God, with the many aspects of our lives, and with the people who are important to us.  So typically discernment needs prayer, reflection, attention to our world, and conversation with others.

Leading and teaching in a seminary, I ministered in an especially intense environment of discernment.  People preparing for specific ministries in the church come from communities that have sought to discern whether a person’s call is also experienced by the church as the body of Christ.  Members of a seminary participate in a continuing discernment of a person’s call through the many interactions of worship, study, social life, and ministry experience.

A similar process occurs in my current setting at Edwardes College in Peshawar, with several thousand young people seeking clarity about the future direction of their lives.  They wrestle with the sometimes competing claims of their families, their own aspirations, the messages sent by the economic and political situation of Pakistan, and the promptings of their faith.  For most, their faith is Islam, and for a minority it is Christianity, and smaller numbers of the students are Hindus or Sikhs.

In acoustics, resonance is the intensification and prolonging of a sound that results from a sympathetic vibration.  Resonance is a helpful metaphor for discernment, and it’s what we mean when we say something “strikes a chord” with us.  Is there a sound out there that seems to evoke a similar sound within ourselves?  Is the sympathetic vibration one that brings lots of our strings to life?  Is God present in that resonance?

When we hear something and it resonates with us, and we pray about it, and think about it in our whole lifescape, and talk about it with others, and the resonance only grows – that may be a sign.

This meditation is adapted from Titus Presler’s “Alert for Signs: Seeing and Praying through Advent” (Forward Movement Publications). 

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