Discerning Hearts

Not long ago, a parishioner shared that he had been doing a lot of discerning of late. He joked that before meeting me that wasn’t a word that he had ever used, and now he found himself using it frequently. Most of us find ourselves making decisions all the time, from how we will spend our time, resources or energy to what we will have for breakfast. We are inundated with choices, so much so that sometimes I find myself deeply weary of making decisions. Occasionally I’ll even ask whomever I’m with to please just make the decision about where we’re going to eat, as I’m decided-out! And all of us are affected by the decisions of others, regardless of how we feel about them.

But discerning is a little different. It leads to clarity around a decision, but it has more to do with the process of detecting or coming to recognize something, often using senses beyond vision. It comes from the Latin word discernere, meaning “to separate,” “to distinguish,” “to determine,” “to sort out.” Traditionally, Christians have used discerning as a reminder that the Spirit of God is at work in the world. Engaging in the process of discerning expresses our desire and commitment to open our selves to, and partner with, the Spirit’s movement in our lives. As Christians, we affirm that we are not alone, although sometimes we may feel that way. Jesus promises his followers his own Spirit, as both a guide and a witness: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

Author and teacher the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault shares the image of sailing in the fog. It isn’t easy to do—and can be quite dangerous—but realizing they cannot physically see, sailors open themselves to a different kind of awareness that helps guide them through potential dangers. So, too, those who experience a loss of one of the senses often experience a heightening of the other senses as well as this expanded awareness.  We might say we commit to listening from the heart, using our whole self, rather than just our intellect or will.

This greater awareness, often referred to as wisdom, is available to us always, but very often I’m too busy or forgetful to engage in listening from the heart. When I remember to discern, I’m actively opening my awareness to include the Spirit’s movement. I remember that my life is not simply my own. All of us have a purpose, and discerning is being curious about how I am responding to God’s call for me here and now. Now some of you may say I have a call and a purpose because I’m a priest, but in truth God calls each and every one of us right where we are.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams, writes that it isn’t that we are being drafted for some role in a drama, given a script and we’d better follow it or else.  Thank goodness!  Rather, God calls us to be who we are, to be true to ourselves. He goes on to say:

It’s all a way of restating the idea that vocation has to do with saving your soul — not by acquiring a secure position of holiness, but by learning to shed the unreality that simply suffocates the very life of the soul. It has to do with recognizing that my relation with God (and so with everybody) depends absolutely on making the decision to be what I am, to answer God’s Word (saying yes to being true to myself), and doing this without fuss or existentialist drama because what I am is already known and loved and accepted in God.

A commitment to discerning means choosing, over and over, to be true to who we are, to be authentic and real, in our work, in our relationships, in the living of our lives.   The leadership of St. Simon’s, the vestry and staff, continue to discern where the Spirit is leading St. Simon’s, as we live into our identity: Celebrating God’s Love for All, Seeking to Embody Christ in the World. All of us are encouraged and invited to discern in our own lives so that we may respond to the one who loves us and calls us. Where have you noticed God calling you in the past? Where and how is God calling you now, to be true to yourself?

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth