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Discernment

Discernment

by The Rev. Danae M. Ashley

Art: Sisson, Christian ; Bass, Saul ; Simov, Svetoslav. Who are We are on the Road to Find out, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54331 [retrieved June 11, 2021]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christiansisson/3571946409/

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 

–I Corinthians 2:10-13

Today is the commemoration of St. Basil the Great and I had every intention of writing this reflection on his life, as I find the saints of the Church both inspiring and able to offer broad insights into church history. However, I was drawn instead to particular verses of the New Testament lesson appointed for Basil’s feast day. So much for my human intentions, huh?

In my work as a therapist and spiritual director, clients are in constant discernment. They will ask me, “How do I know this is from God and it is not just me seeking my own will?” or, “Why doesn’t God give me a clear sign?” We wrestle with these questions amidst a maelstrom of personal trauma, family of origin patterns, societal expectations, and spiritual confusion. When I read those final four verses from I Cor 2:10-13, I stumble over the NRSV’s choice of wording, especially in the last verse, and wonder if a different translation would help interpret the ideas in a more accessible way. I decided to check a few translations and found this one from The Message to be clearer:

The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

The Spirit “dives into the depths of God,” bringing to the surface glimpses of next steps and clarity in how God is beckoning us to transform our lives. By focusing on the personal relationship with Jesus, we can see more clearly what God wants from us rather than who the world tells us we should be. But discernment does not stop there. Sharing the Good News with those around us implies that the community is also a place for discernment— both individually and as a community.

We know from Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are a good way to test whether something is from God or not. I have also heard people who thoughtfully and prayerfully made a decision about a big question in life and, although it seemed absurd to others, was the right decision for them. In those cases, many of them talked about having the deep peace of God that passes all understanding in the midst of turmoil around them. This peace came from an attuned experience of God’s guidance and would not have been noticed if they were not so intentional in their discernment. 

Discernment means that we have to patiently sift through life’s debris to get to the gold that is waiting. Sometimes it seems like everything comes together all at once, but if you observe more closely, you realize that many things had been happening to lead to the moment of crystallization. It does not follow the world’s timeline, but God’s. Our discernment process is deeply personal and is also a way by which the Spirit connects us with our community. I appreciate the both/and nature of the discernment process and see it as an additional way to share our faith in the context of relationship. It is also lifelong, which means an ongoing conversation with God leading to continued transformation and surprises along the way. 

For further reflection:

  1. What are some surprises you have experienced from going through discernment?
  2. What are signs that your discernment is from God?
  3. How has community helped in your discernment?

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The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is serving part-time as the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC. She has written for a number of publications, produced a play, and has been featured on several podcasts regarding fertility struggle and faith. Danae’s favorite past times include reading, traveling with her husband, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.

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