Discernment is a word that seems to get thrown around a lot. Everyone drinks of it deeply, but then it seems we're all suffering from a perpetual discernment hangover. Too much of a good thing, and we're too pukey or dizzy to really remember what we imbibed in the first place.
But it's refreshing and a wild hilarious party at the same time.
Despite the stodgy rep discernment has gotten over the centuries (kind of ages us, don't you think?), it can be like electricity coursing through my system; or that heavy certainty in my chest, not put there by your thought; or it can be that whisper to "Look up!", and suddenly the world is tilted on another axis, and never looks the same way again.
"Getting answers to my questions is not the goal of the spiritual life. Living in the presence of God is the greater call. The gift of discernment is the ability to see and hear from God's perspective and to offer that wisdom from above to others" (Nouwen, Pay Attention to the People in Your Path, Discernment, p.67).
For much of my life I've sought answers. I was taught to seek answers… certainty… ends… completion. It came as quite a shock when I discovered that God seemed less and less interested in the rightness of my answers (which weren't all that anyhow, if you know what I mean), and was rather interested in pursuing a relationship of love together. I still have trouble letting go of the "Apologetics Me", terrified that if I let go of "the right answers" I'll somehow slip away from God.
But you sought life the same way; that is, until you began paying attention to the people in your life. The people you trusted the most (the "knowns" like Mother Theresa or Jean Vanier to the "unknowns" like the beggar on the street or the humble school teacher and many others). You didn't find answers in them as we'd like our answers to be: solid, factual, prove-able, correct, defendable, contendable. Nor did I.
What was it Mother Theresa told you? "Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which know to be wrong… you will be fine!"
God speaks through family members… strangers… the intelligentsia… those the world would throw away… addicts… friends…
They're right here. Right in front of my eyes. People who push the boundaries of who I believe God to be, who are in close communion with this Divine Creator Spirit Element, who are deeply in love with Jesus (or not… let's be honest here), or who sometimes don't even claim to believe in God.
I'm stepping gingerly through a time where there seems to be a plethora of mentors and spiritual guides in front of my eyes. Learning to pay attention to them is difficult, not because I can't see or hear them, but because I am deeply mistrustful of them.
I've trusted spiritual guides before…
"Women are equal in form, but not in role or function"
"You can be lost to hell if you aren't careful"
"You have demons inside of you"
"Hell is 7 times hotter than the earth's molten core"
"Your karma will come to punish you"
"If you believe all of what you belive and claim to be intelligent, you must be stoo-pid [emphasis on the incorrect spelling]"
Not all spiritual lessons were from Christians obviously, but the scary thing is all of them have a grain of truth within them. Women were created after men (in one of the Genesis accounts anyway); there are certain Scriptures that can be interpreted as believers being able to lose their salvation; in some Christian traditions, there are doctrines of hell; I did experience many visitations, oppressions and terrors that I can only describe as "demonic"; we do seem to need repetition in our lives at times to learn what God would have us understand; and some (not all) atheists really do think I'm an idiot for standing within my beliefs.
The hell being 7 times hotter thing… I have no idea what truth can be divined out of this one, or who went to the Earth's core (or hell!) to take temperatures and compare, but he was sincere in his teaching. To be fair, I was only 9 years old at the time and discernment was at the top of my list of things to even consider, much less understand.
But spiritual guides, mentors and teachers come in all colours and stripes don't they? (see the picture above)
Right now, my pastor is my main mentor. His broken record message to me?
"You are loved"
"You are loved"
"You are loved"
"You are loved"
"You are loved"
How does this answer my questions about the origins of the universe? Or about sexuality and gender? Or about women in leadership/headship/equality? Or about obedience? Or about holiness? Or about taking faith 'seriously'?
What I'm coming to learn is that my quest for answers as a child began out of a place of fear — stark terror. Since God… at least the God I'm coming to know… isn't into bullying Her own Creation, I need to wonder at my previous spiritual guides, their journeys, find the truth in their expressions and perhaps let go of my desparate need for certainty.
All I see is me as Peter, flailing and choking out on the lake. Drowning, spitting, gasping, I shove upwards only to see Jesus standing there in the waves. He reaches down to me and says in the calmest voice I've ever heard: "Trust me."
If God speaks through imperfect people, even people who I grow to disagree with, I have to make my own start from a place of love, of trust, of the last thrust of the arm upward to grab a hold of my Lover and Lord so He can pull me up out of the brine.
I like the sound of being loved.
I crave the sound of being loved.
I want the whispers of being loved.
But that mistrust is deeply rooted, even in this place of new beginnings. Did you find yourself pausing with those who spoke truth and love? Did you want to throw it all back that them? Were you ever suspicious that someine was dealing you a dirty hand with less than a full deck?
I want to be loved.
But what if the people speaking into my life are wrong? What if my discernment radar is on the fritz?
Fear's talking again.
I don't know if I'll get over this duel between love and mistrust anytime soon, but that people are in my life right here, right now repeating again and again: "You are love" speaks volumes.
Just maybe they are right.
Just maybe you, as a person speaking into my life, are right.
Maybe the journey isn't towards answers of certainty, but one of a sojourning with others realizing new beginnings of love.
What a world it would be if we all began here.
Until next time,