Discerning Your Way in a World Full of Questions
by Renée Miller
"When will God speak to me, and tell me what
to do, Rabbi?" the young man asked.
"Our God, blessed be He, is always speaking to you, if you
have ears to hear," replied the Rabbi.
"I never hear a voice, Teacher," he said quietly.
"Yahweh spoke you into being as Yahweh spoke creation into
being; as Yahweh spoke the covenant to Abraham; as Yahweh spoke
our fathers and mothers through the wilderness," the Rabbi
"But, why can't I hear?" he almost whispered.
"When your heart becomes as quiet as your whispered question,
you will hear the still, small voice of God. Blessed be God."
of being human is engaging in the process of discernment. Discernment
actually begins when we give voice to our longings for life in all
of its fullness. Life in its plentitude is always presenting us
with new and different options, to which we must give response.
Searching for those right responses can be a messy
and chaotic exercise, and we often come to the conclusion that
it would be so much better
if someone else (particularly God) would simply provide us with
the proper answer. But such abdication of the practice of discernment,
while attractive in the short-run, actually diminishes our humanity
and lessens our faith. Rather than simply being passive recipients
of easy answers, God has made it possible for us to be active participants
in the discernment process; it is in the midst of that process that
we reach that point of 'equipoise' where possibility and potentiality
are waiting to be birthed. A look at the Biblical stories reveals
time and again that those who embarked on a journey of discernment
actually grew in ways that could never have occurred had God simply
'stepped in' and sent them a private message of what to do. Rather
than abdicating to some objective entity, we, like those holy ones
of old, are invited to step into the discernment circle that is
filled with boisterous bedlam. There we find the embrace of holy
energy that leads us to inner balance.
you have ever flown in an airplane, you know that at a certain altitude,
the clouds are far below and the plane is flying in the calm of
blue sky that stretches farther than the eye can see. The cloud
cover below looks like a wonderland of cotton-puff snow. As the
plane descends, everything becomes unclear. A glance outside the
window reveals nothing but the opaque moisture of fast-swirling
clouds. It is as if the plane is caught in the womb of an immense
fog. As the plane descends further, unfamiliar and vague shapes
begin to emerge from below, until finally the plane enters that
clear layer of earth's atmosphere where the common world of homes
and business, farmlands and rivers are clearly recognizable.
we are attempting to discern some new direction or call in our lives,
we cannot stay in the clear air above the clouds. Like the plane
that must descend if it is to land, so too must we begin a descent
into our inmost selves if we are to detect the subtle movements
that urge us to make new decisions, new choices. A purely linear
and logical exercise of listing pro's and con's for a particular
decision may help us clarify the issues, but it is rarely an effective
determining factor in a discernment process. We must bravely drop
down, down, down through the dense and swirling chaos and inner
confusion, the troubling indecision and annoying uncertainty.
descent into ourselves is, perhaps, the most important element
the discernment process. It is in that descent that we come to understand
more about ourselves - our motivations, our impulses, our growth
edges. It even leads us to experiencing life anew. In the work of
discernment we are catapulted out of our regular, regimented, routinized
existence and everything is turned upside down. Discerning whether
or not to accept a new position at work, for example, requires us
to think differently about our current job. It wakes us from the
stupor of deadened habit to an awareness of our current work and
the possibilities presented by new work. If our discernment leads
us to stay with our current position, we feel more kinship, even
passion, for what had become so regular and ordinary. If, on the
other hand, we decide to leave our current job to step into the
new position, we are awakened to the freshness of new learnings,
new relationships, new experiences. Moving too quickly to the 'answer'
deprives us of the chance to experience the inner journey that awakens
us both to the disparities and harmony between our desires and God's
voice. It is in the process of discernment that we actually discover
that the journey itself is as important as the answer to be found
at the end. As the poet C.P. Cavafy suggests in the poem titled
gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
You will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean."
we are in the throes of the fog - the 'not knowing' - we are tempted
to give up the discernment process and simply return to what is
remembered or familiar. But, if we can be brave and daring, we will
find we can actually trust the presence of Christ's spirit within
us to lead us through the ambiguity into a place of comprehension
When we come to the point of needing to discern something in our
lives, we wonder if we will have all the right information, if we
will have the wisdom to see which is the right course, if we will
know which is the right decision. These anxieties can be relieved
when we recognize the truth that discernment is much more than an
individual exercise of decision-making. We do not go through the
discernment process in a vacuum. God may
not send us a 'message in a bottle' telling us what to do, but
God gives us resources that
can assist us in making a proper decision. One such resource is
Scripture. As we let the words and stories of scripture seep slowly
into our soul, we will find our hearts and minds illuminated by
the teaching and discernment of those who have recorded their own
walk with God. Likewise, when we bring our discernment to God in
prayer, and make our heart as quiet as our whispered questions,
we will faintly hear the spirit of God informing the longings that
pulse within us. Then, if we can look objectively at the circumstances
that surround our discernment and note the half-closed windows and
flung-wide doors, we will see the presence of God's hand at work
in leading us to the space of openness and clarity. And finally,
when we share our hearts with others in our lives that are important
to us, we will hear in their response the very voice of God, God's
greatest surprise of all in discernment is that in the very act
of considering the various options that God has given us, we begin
to see that life is more about seeing clearly the presence and call
of God than it is about making perfect and precise decisions. The
grace of this process is the discovery that discernment renews in
us this life of constant creation and awakens us to knowing that
we are a part of the transformation of the world.
©2003 The Rev. Canon Renée Miller