Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Discerning What is Godly and Good

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." 1 John 4:1

Discernment. Recently a parishioner asked me what discernment means. He said, "It's such a harsh sounding word, D I S C E R N M E N T." And I have to admit he took me by surprise. I have used this word many times in many ways over the last twelve years. I first began to use it when I started my own discernment process toward ordination and haven't stopped using. I invited the congregation into a time of discernment from Christmas until Lent. Which is the impetus for my parishioners question. What are we doing, he wondered? Yes, I thought, what are we doing. I, however was wondering from a very different place than he.

In "Christianity for the Rest of Us," Diana Butler Bass offers a chapter on discernment. In it she says that, "Discernment is a gift to the whole of the Christian community, one that can be strengthened and nurtured by engaging the practice. Discernment serves as a spiritual compass, helping us negotiate the unfamiliar territory of our truest selves as we seek to find meaning in God's call." (pg. 91).

Discernment is how we Christians (and maybe others, I don't want to be exclusive or possessive of the process) figure out who we are and what we are about in relationship to God. It is our attempt to live lives grounded in God. It is how we strive to know who are and whose we are.

For the parish, this time of discernment was challenging, but fruitful. It was challenging to encourage a group of analytical problem solvers to function like mystics. But we did it. During that discernment time I invited them to pray a poem every Sunday in worship in place of the Nicene Creed (shhh, don't tell my Bishop).

It's from Ted Loder (Guerrillas of Grace, prayers for the battle).

Grant Me Your Sense of Timing

O God of all seasons and senses,
Grant me your sense of timing
To submit gracefully
And rejoice quietly
In the turn of seasons.

In this season of short days and long nights
of gray and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of waiting;
of snow joining the mystery
of hunkered-down seeds
growing in their sleep
watched over by gnarled-limbed, grandparent trees
resting from autumn’s staggering energy;
of silent, whirling earth
circling to race back home to the sun,
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of gray and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of endings:
children growing, friends leaving,
jobs concluding
stages finishing,
grieving over,
grudges over,
blaming over,
excuses over.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of gray and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of beginnings:
that such waitings and endings
may be a starting place,
a planting of seeds
which bring to birth
what is ready to be born –
something right and just and different
a new song,
a deeper relationship,
a fuller love –
in the fullness of your time.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

Over the course of the weeks we prayed this it took on deep meaning. There is a season for everything. Even churches have a season of life. Sometimes churches die. Sometimes they find new life, but not until they have looked their own death in the eyes.

What will this small church do? I don't know. They are trying to forge on and figure that out. I am most discouraged by the degree to which they are satisfied with their faith and spirituality as it is, no need to grow anymore. I mean, that's fine if this is all they want. But me, I want more. How can I want more and pastor a people who are content? Our spirits are not in the same place, and so I feel like I am spinning wheels...

Now, after months of entering search processes and phone interviews and answering essay questions, my own searching is coming to a closure. Sure, it may take several more months until I am offered and accept a call. Then again it may be soon. I have one church search committee coming here for a site visit in April (14 and 15). And I have been invited (me and family) to visit another church the end of April. I have another one that really interests me, waiting to hear back from them.

So, discernment takes on a whole new level...what if I think I want one church but it is slow to come around, while another church, which is Ok, offers me the position? Do I say no and hope for the other? This is a tenuous process, one never knows what the outcome might be. I've been a "finalist" before. I know that the table can turn either way....

This is the point at which I think discerning becomes my job. I think God has already been active in bringing these places to me and me to them. Now it is my job to discern. I don't think God is going to say that there is only one right place or way to discern which place is "right". God will go with me, what ever I discern. Now it is my work, to listen. To pray. To be still. To envision a future. To feel. Of course, I could be wrong. God just might help me see one place over the others...God is funny that way, never quite doing what I anticipate...

Again, from "Christianity for the Rest of Us," "Discernment does not simply confirm our hunches or intuitions. Instead it is a perilous practice that involves self-criticism, questions, and risk - and it often redirects our lives." (pg 95).

Oh, God, grant me your sense of timing.


Songbird said...

"God will go with me, whatever I discern."
That is so right on, mompriest. Just in the past year, I've begun to give myself a break; I used to think there could be only one right and perfect place for me to be, and if I made one false move, nothing would go well. (Sort of like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin and saying "if" he comes...) Two clergy friends separately said something much like your statement above, and I resisted it at first, but what peace has come with believing it! I want to be where God wants me to be, but why do I limit God and myself by insisting there is only one possibility?
(Remind me I said this next time I'm searching, okay?)

mompriest said...

Ok, I will remind you... :-)

now, I just need to remember it myself...

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...