Some thoughts on discernment – 1

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I have recently been running a series of online workshops on discernment and thought I might share some of the thinking and concepts. If you are interested in joining this series follow the link to sign up: Online Discernment Workshop

What is Discernment?

It is hard to sum up in just a few paragraphs! There are many books written on the topic and many different perspectives. Within the church the word gets used in a variety of different ways. (We use the language of discernment to mean particular life choices; or sometimes people talk about being ‘in discernment’ as though it is about the process of formation for religious life or priesthood.)

What I am writing about is not that time of choosing a state of life (although that may be part of it), but rather something of the personal relationship between ourselves and God.

This personal relationship with God is a real relationship, and one which brings with it joy, delight, attraction, responsibility and choice as it deepens. This movement or Desire towards God is at the heart of discernment – we are talking about orienting our life towards God in a way that brings us a deep inner sense of connection and joy.

Any re-orientation of our life will involve decisions and choices – perhaps when we are looking at discernment it is important to see the centrality of everyday choices in shaping our lives. We make many choices every day – some we recognise as significant, others seem minor, but we never really know until much later which will prove to be significant – the time I leave the house to go for a walk might determine a chance meeting; the comment I make in a conversation might affect someone else’s decisions. Life is not made up solely of big decisions, but of many everyday occurrences in which God is present.

Entering more deeply into this relationship with God involves the choice to orient my life in such a way that I can respond more freely to God’s prompting. St Ignatius, at the start of the Spiritual Exercises proposes the Principle and Foundation; a recognition that every moment, every conversation, every experience is a gift and an opportunity for encountering God, and I am invited to respond.

The Principle and Foundation

The goal of our life is to live with God forever.

God, who loves us, gave us life.

Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.

As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the centre of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation.

We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.

For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this:

I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.

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