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Our attention is bombarded from many sides: ads, podcasts, school courses, business priorities and deadlines, live streaming, texting, music, searching the internet, and listening to reminders pinging on our phones; and that’s just in our immediate surroundings. Often there are more things vying for our attention! As a result we may have gotten into the habit of reacting to the latest attention-grabber, instead of making free or conscious choices of how to spend our energy and where to invest our attention.
Paying attention can be a spiritual practice. It’s a better habit to cultivate in life. When I use the phrase “paying attention” I mean making choices about what to pay attention to and when.
This spiritual practice becomes especially vital when we’re trying to understand what God is calling us to do with our lives. Discerning this choice needs our commitment to paying attention. Decisions that support us in paying attention include setting aside time for quiet and deep listening, even, at times, to go away for a few days of retreat so we can be less interrupted in our listening to ourselves and to God.
The heart is a metaphor for this deep listening. In quiet times, especially extended times of quiet, we can pay attention to what matters to our hearts. This is where we meet God, who leads us to choices where we can best use our unique gifts.
May you not delay in making the time you need for this kind of listening, remembering that God is present in your heart’s desire.
One of the keys to support ourselves during times of discernment is through prayer. That ability to be silent before God as a listener is as vital as picturing ourselves in the presence of a wise person. Ask a simple question at the start of prayer, “Loving One, what do you want me to do with my life?” Then, wait in silence to hear the response.
Asking a question similar to this one probably won’t be a one-time experience of asking and then hearing the response, because this (and others like it) is a profound question! It may take many times for us to hear, really tune in to how the response comes. In prayer and quiet time, we are preparing to receive something precious from the One who loves us.
Receptivity and openness, not attachment to a specific outcome, allows us to hear well. We may be surprised by how our response comes. It could be through an insight received during prayer, a seemingly accidental conversation with another person, going for a walk, fixing a meal, doing dishes, or taking a shower. The response may just show up and our heart will know “this is it.” If we don’t know the full answer to our question, we will know the next step to take.
Discerning is a journey, a pilgrimage, during which we discover clues along the paths we walk. We can feel joy and be assured that all the paths lead to the same end, connection with our God.
May you have patience and persistence walking this path,
Why is personal prayer so important? Watch this video.
El Camino de Escuchar
Una de las claves para sostenernos durante los tiempos de discernimiento es a través de la oración. Esa capacidad de guardar silencio ante Dios como oyente es tan vital como imaginarnos en presencia de una persona sabia. Haga una pregunta sencilla al comienzo de la oración: “Amado, ¿qué quieres que haga con mi vida?” Luego, espera en silencio para escuchar la respuesta.
Hacer esta pregunta probablemente no será una experiencia única de preguntar y luego escuchar la respuesta, ¡porque esta es una pregunta profunda! Puede que nos cueste muchas veces escuchar, realmente sintonizarnos en como llega la respuesta. En oración y en silencio, nos estamos preparando para recibir algo precioso de Aquel que nos ama. La receptividad y la sensibilidad, no el apego a un resultado específico, nos permite escuchar bien.
Nos puede sorprender cómo llega nuestra respuesta. Puede ser a través de una percepción recibida durante la oración, una conversación aparentemente accidental con otra persona, salir a caminar, preparar una comida, lavar los platos o tomar una ducha. La respuesta puede aparecer repentinamente y nuestro corazón sabrá que "esta es." Si no sabemos la respuesta completa a nuestra pregunta, sabremos el próximo paso a seguir.
Discernir es un viaje, un peregrinaje, durante el cual descubrimos señales a lo largo de los senderos que caminamos. Podemos sentir alegría y tener la seguridad de que nuestros caminos nos llevan al mismo fin, la conexión con nuestro Dios.
Que tengas paciencia y persistencia recorriendo el camino de escuchar,
¿Por qué es tan importante la oración personal? Vea.
May you have patience and persistence walking this path,
Christine Valters Paintner, in her book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, says, “Discernment is essentially a way of listening to our lives and the world around us and responding to the invitations that call us into deeper alignment with our soul’s deep desires and the desires God has for us.”*
With that description in mind, how do we enter that space of quiet where the “way of listening” she mentions is possible? Once we slow down and stop for awhile, our thoughts don’t necessarily stop with us. They keep going and we can count on multiple distractions invading that space! They might sound like: “I’ve got to get going.” “I can’t just sit here like this!” “I have things to do.” “This is a waste of time; nothing’s happening!”
Try sitting in a chair, feet on the floor, hands resting comfortably in your lap and begin breathing slowly, in and out. Count the breaths if that helps. Count them while focusing your attention on each breath until you begin to notice your breathing gradually slows more and more. This intentional quieting each day, even for ten minutes at a time, will begin to develop a pattern in our thoughts. We will start to notice something different is happening. Our thoughts will take their cue from our breathing and also slow down.
Thoughts will never be totally erased from our quiet time. But being intentional about taking time everyday to become familiar with this sacred space within will set the stage for our best and deepest listening to God’s voice within.
*Excerpted from The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred by Christine Valters Paintner. Copyright 2018 by Ave Maria Press, P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Used with permission of the publisher.
One of the most challenging virtues for us to practice is patience. Another is trust. As we try to learn what God calls us to in our lives, we need a helpful dose of each.
Think of what it’s like to wait at a red light or stand in line at the store. If you’ve ever planted a vegetable garden and were eager to see what the carrots, beets, or potatoes looked like, you know what patience is needed. Recall how you feel when waiting for an important social or sporting event you’re going to attend. Whether you’re feeling patient or impatient, the waiting line moves as it does and you take your turn. The time for the events arrives. The vegetables come up fully formed or not. It’s our experience of waiting for that anticipated moment that stays with us.
Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, penned a poem entitled “Trust in the Slow Work of God.” As the title implies, be patient and trust that God is with us all the way through the process of listening for what our call is, what God would have us do with our lives.
Most of us do not have a brilliant, clear, and memorable announcement by an angel as Mary, the mother of Jesus, had. Most of us need to develop our heart-skill of patiently listening for God during our times of prayer or in conversations with a spiritual director or in the words of our friends who say aloud words that echo inside us and confirm where God is calling.
Let’s actively engage with God, embracing our patience and trust, listening to learn what we can.
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!