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.
Unless I make a conscious choice to stop on our back porch on my way in or out of the house, I do not see the tiny yellow blossoms and smaller green tomato orbs on the vine or the young pea pods among the plant’s leaves and tentacles. Even in my widow-box veggie garden, Nature has her way of protecting – even hiding – the fruits of growth until they’re ready to be picked. I’m amazed how long it takes me some days, to even find the pods and tomatoes – once I stop. Remembering my impatience with the plants and their leaves for hiding their fruit from my eyes makes me smile now!
Only gradually and with persistent hunting could I notice the pods and orbs that I’d missed on my previous searches. The harvest time may not be here yet, but I do hope to experience it eventually. Right-timing is everything!
Discernment in our lives shares some of these characteristics. It’s vital to stop and step away from our normal daily routines so we can notice what may be surfacing in our lives. Constant busy-ness leaves little space to take that closer look and notice God’s call in our lives.
Sporadic times of reflection may not be enough to provide the kind of stopping and noticing needed to hear and see God’s hints at our life purpose. Just as the leaves and tendrils of the peas eventually intertwine in a jumbled green ball, our discernment of God’s call mixes with many other possibilities and these take time to sort through. Giving the time for stepping away carries a reward. Trust that the results of looking, noticing and listening will bring us its bounty and insights.
While I was having lunch at Chilli’s with a few visiting Australian friends, they surprised me by commenting, “I get tired of how many choices you Americans have, even when you go out to eat!”
I’d never considered this, of course, because I’m so used to being asked, “Do you want that toasted or plain and on what kind of bread?” “Paper or plastic?” My friends weren’t used to so much decision-making just to have a simple meal, so they felt overwhelmed.
We can experience that same sense that it’s all too much when considering the important life question, “Where is God calling me?” Many young people are fortunate in having a solid education and /or successful work experience, so the possibilities for the future are plentiful. At first glance this seems like a good thing. And it is – until you have to choose.
When we make a choice for something good for our life’s purpose, it also means letting go of other good things – a dilemma for sure! This is also why it can take longer than we’d like to decide which way to go in life, what choice to make.
Wisdom tells us each letting go of a good choice makes another one possible. Since we cannot be totally sure the good choice we’re making is the right one, reality elbows in to remind us that there’s risk involved in choosing. The risk is worth it, however, if it results in peace of mind and an inner sense of rightness. Both are indicators that this choice is your response to God’s call.
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.
Standing at the ATM machine the other day, I had to first recall my security code and then be careful when I entered the numbers so they weren’t visible to anyone who might have been standing behind me. It dawned on me that we can learn a few things from ATMs that help us interact with God in prayer, too. Whether we sit or kneel or stand before God asking to understand what we’re called to do with our lives, we want to be as mindful of the environment around us as we are when entering our security codes at the bank.
Our willingness to quiet ourselves inside and be open to listening to whatever message God has for us creates an atmosphere where God can speak. In our hearts we can ask with the psalmist in Psalm 25, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” The musician David Haas created a mantra with this line to assist us in easily moving into that quiet, listening space within.
When we practice this quieting regularly, it’s as easy as going to the ATM. And when we leave this quiet space, we often find we have much more than cash – and these gifts are also available 24/7!
Carmel Boyle, a popular Irish vocalist, has recorded the song “My Soul’s Desire”, an engaging and foot-tapping melody designed to get us thinking deeply about what we are looking for in life. No, that’s not entirely true. The words of the song ask what you desire and what you think God desires too!
Many spiritual writers have told us that one clue to what God is asking of us – calling us toward – is found in our deep desires, our heart’s desires, or as Ms. Boyle puts it, our “soul’s desire”.
One of the ways to discover what my soul desires can be spending time in quiet, the kind of inner quiet that allows me to really focus and listen deeply for my heart’s response. Pay attention to what you long for, what it is you’re passionate about, what brings you joy and hope. In these longer summer days of light, may you make the time for this kind of quiet and ready yourself to listen for your soul’s desire.
Blessings as you listen,
Beginning this week there are two Co-Directors of Vocations for the Congregation: Sisters Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Mariane Fahlman, OP.
Sister Mariane is currently a Professor of Kinesiology, Health and Sports Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where her teaching and research focus on disease prevention through healthy living. She will be reaching out in the metro Detroit area as well as responding to requests from those who are seeking more information on religious life, specifically with the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Sister Tarianne lives and ministers in Adrian, Michigan and is a social worker with a marriage and family therapy background. She has served in numerous leadership roles not only in the Congregation, but also at Dominican High School and Academy in Detroit, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation, in Beginning Experience International, a grief resolution ministry for separated, divorced and widowed men and women and their children and as a team trainer for Returning to Spirit, a program to bring about reconciliation between the church and those who attended Residential Schools in Canada. During the past year, she has been conducting creative writing workshops in Adrian as well as doing writing of her own. She brings to this new role a listening ear, curiosity about what God is doing in our lives and willingness to try new approaches in response to needs.
We are very grateful to Sisters Sara and Lorraine for all the contributions they have made to Vocation ministry and for how diligently they worked to make these past few months a smooth transition for us. We are comforted in knowing they are only a phone call or email away for help when we need it! We wish them well!
Sisters Tarianne and Mariane
There is a famous question, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In other words, does the way you live your life really reflect what you claim you believe and value? Most of us fall short, but in general, we can recognize if we are muddling along in the direction toward what we hold sacred and true or away from it.
For Dominicans, we view it in a slightly different way. How does your life preach? How does the way you live proclaim to the world? We are members of the Order of Preachers, after all. Dominican houses were and are called “Houses of the Holy Preaching.” That doesn’t mean we sit around listening to homilies and reflections. It means we strive to recognize that what we do – how we treat each other, how we live together, how we reach out to others – is a way of preaching Christ’s Gospel.
How do I preach with my life? What do I preach with my life? Does my life say what I want it to be saying? Does my life align with God’s desires for me? Asking these questions can help us figure out if we are on the right path and can help us discern the forks in the road.
Ultimately God’s desire for our lives and our deepest desires are united. But it takes a while to understand and accept those deepest desires within us.
Take some time this week to ask God to show you how you already preach with your life and, perhaps, show you new ways you may be called!
In a few days I will be heading for my annual retreat. I usually choose to do silent, directed retreats. The chance to be completely quiet, except for the forty minutes each day with a spiritual director, helps me to go much deeper. It enables me to get more connected in that place deep within where God dwells.
Even though it’s not always an easy time, I always look forward to these “vacations with God” with excitement, knowing that God and I will have some extra focused time to nourish our relationship. By now I know that, even though I may be in the same retreat house, I will be surprised by God. God accepts me where I am, and at the same time offers me what is needed. Sometimes it’s comfort, sometimes it’s a chance to slow down, sometimes it’s a nudge, and sometimes it’s a push.
Even though it can sound like a retreat is just about “me and God” it’s always bigger than that. First, I always spend much more time in nature and so become more attuned to God’s grace in all creation and more aware of myself as one of God’s creatures in a much larger reality. Also, what happens in the retreat can remain with me throughout the year and can help to transform my relationships with others.
If you are discerning something in particular, a retreat can be a wonderful way to clear away all the extras for a time and focus on listing to the voice of God’s wisdom. Retreats have played an important role in my own journey to religious life. These special times also help me nurture that relationship with the One I fully gave my life to. I know God is looking forward to this quality time with me as well!
I pray you are able to have a “vacation with God” this summer!
That famous question, “Who do you say that I am?” occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel. It can be a very important discernment question because how we answer it affects everything. If you say Jesus was a good man who set a good example, that may be nice, but it doesn’t necessarily call a person to any radical change. If you say Jesus is the one who will judge us in the end, then it might just make you anxious and act out of guilt. If you say Jesus is the creator of the universe manifesting in human form to teach us how to live and love, you might feel more drawn to respond with your life.
At a very personal level, we probably answer this question differently from others, and even for ourselves at different points in our lives. Because Jesus is also a ‘person,’ we are in a relationship, and relationships change over time. Jesus may not change, but our understanding of him and way of relating to him will. Some of the different answers I have had to this question: Jesus you are… my partner… my hope… a caress… a challenger… the one I take time with each night and morning… the core relationship in my life.
Discernment involves other people. But the strongest voice in becoming who I am, and discerning what I am called to do, is the voice of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is?
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
Sister Mariane Fahlman, OP
Adrian Dominican Sisters
1257 East Siena Heights Drive
Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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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!