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,
I was leading a group in some prayer exercises and I was really touched by an experience one of the women had. In the first part, she shared that she was really struggling with impatience. It was something really heavy for her and she felt terrible about how impatient she was with those around her, especially her family.
The next prayer led people to ask God how God is calling them to new life now. She expected to be told by God that she was called to be less impatient. Instead, she received a clear message: she was called to the joy of patience.
How like our God of life! Instead of focusing on what was wrong, God invited this woman to embrace the opposite grace. God did not condemn her for her faults, but rather welcomed her to new life and joy. Tears were running down her face as she shared this response.
Take a look at whatever negative aspect of yourself you are struggling with. Now try and identify the opposite gift or virtue. Instead of fighting so hard to change something bad, put your energy into embracing something good.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
Centering prayer is an ancient prayer of inner awakening to divine presence in the silence of our being. In this prayer we gently let go of our thoughts, feelings, and anxious planning, and sink into that open space within ourselves where God dwells in hidden closeness. When I practice this prayer I feel somehow free from my personal story. I sense a joy in knowing that God’s presence extends far beyond my thoughts, feelings, and achievements, and resides in the depths of my soul soaring into eternity. This awareness of union with God is at the heart of the spiritual life.
How can sitting in the silence of centering prayer help us to respond effectively to various life situations? Clearly, we are not deliberating on our problems and searching for solid solutions during this prayer of silence. Centering prayer, however, trains us to separate from our thoughts and feelings and to wait for God’s wisdom and guidance rather than jumping to easy answers prematurely. As Albert Einstein once said, “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” By learning to orient ourselves toward God in centering prayer, we learn to see our life situations from a new divine perspective. The direction we need to go becomes clear and we are emboldened to take loving action for the betterment of those around us.
This week’s blogger is Sister Ellen Burkhardt, OP.
“I don’t believe you brought me this far to leave me.”
These words are from a hymn we sing in my parish in Detroit, one of my favorites. We sang it one week while I was discerning a call to religious life, and honestly, I thought the words were jumping off the page and into my heart with a message specially formulated for me! God seemed to speak directly to me through the words “I haven’t brought you this far just to walk away from you now. Trust me, now and into the future.”
As is often the case for those struggling with a discernment issue, I was filled with questions: How can I know that this is where God is leading me? Why won’t these questions go away? I also had concerns about giving up my home and a career I loved. I worried about entering religious life and then discovering that it doesn’t fit me. What would I do then?
Over time, with the help of prayer and spiritual direction, I came to a deeper trust that the same God who led me this far, will accompany me today and each day that follows.
In an hour, I will be heading out for a week’s retreat. I have been doing an annual silent retreat for over 25 years. This yearly intensive time with God keeps me grounded. Some of the prayer experiences have remained with me as pivotal times that have changed my life. Those experiences with God in prayer are as vivid as other powerful life experiences. It used to be easier to shut down to enter this sacred time. I am old enough to have begun doing retreats pre-email and pre-cellphone, and I’m not even that old!
When you were on retreat, you were on retreat and only accessible by an emergency contact number. Now, I have set two e-mail accounts to “out of office,” post on Facebook that I will be away, change my voicemail message and change my cellphone message. On top of that, I am going to turn off my phone. I have only had a smartphone for four years, but it amazes me the power it has – the seductive way it calls out to us to be connected, aware and reachable at all times.
Sometimes the illusion of connection can actually take away from intimacy – intimacy with God, those we share life with, friends, and even our surroundings. Of course, our phones help us to serve, learn, and connect. But there is a cost as well. We need to put them in their proper place. For this week, that proper place will be powered off in a drawer.
Is there a way this summer that you are called to disconnect in order to connect more deeply with our God?
If four strong people were each holding the corner of a blanket, would you let yourself fall back into it with confidence? Probably. If one person dropped their side, what would happen? You would tumble out on to the floor. Or, if another person decided to suddenly raise their side, what would happen? You would slide right out.
I just saw this demonstrated literally at the Dominican College Preaching Conference. The point was: to live well and discern well, we need to have a balanced life. As Dominicans we talk about the four key pillars that keep our lives in balance: prayer, study, community and preaching (ministry or service). While sometimes we might focus on one area more than another, if we completely drop one or over-stress one, we lose our stability. Being in balance helps us to live well and to choose well.
Is your life in balance?
Sometimes we think we’ve figured out a future direction, that we’ve discerned something, but than the other people involved don’t come to the same conclusion. It’s rather unsettling and can be very confusing. You can decide that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, but if they decide they don’t want to be with you, you obviously can’t force a relationship! This is true for a friendship, a job, and even a religious congregation. Discernment is a two way process – we do all we can to be faithful to God’s desire for our life, and then we hold it lightly. We need to leave God, the other person, and even ourselves free.
We are coming up to a General Chapter, a meeting held every six years in which we make decisions about our future direction and elect new leaders. We have been actively engaged in discerning for almost two years. No doubt many of us sisters will arrive with a strong sense of where we need to go in the future. And no doubt these ideas will not all be the same. We now will be called to discern together, to hold lightly the ideas that we bring and to hear the voice of God in the other.
Discernment is always bigger than “me and God.” What are the other voices you need to attend to in your own discernment?
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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 new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!