Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Discerning Discernment

As a postulant, novice and woman in first profession, I have been in the stage of monastic life known as initial formation. This is the time when a woman learns about monastic life, in theory and in practice, and reflects on whether this really is what God is calling her to. In other words, it's a time of discernment: in this context, specifically religious discernement.

I'm going to be really honest and confess that, although I'd heard the term used many times, and understood its meaning, I wasn't really clear how I should actually do it. Were there definite steps, a protocol? How did I distinguish what God was telling me from what I merely fancied doing? Did other people know some secret method I didn't? I can say that over these years of initial formation, I have come to a deeper understanding of what discernment is (I had, in fact, being doing it for many years), but I have to warn you that we are back in murky water here, so please abandon any hope that I shall be offering an ABC guide!

What I can say about my call to monastic life is that when I let it in, it was the working of grace. My part was to choose to open myself sufficiently to allow grace to work in me. It seems to me that free will and choice are seminal to the discernment process. Making the choice to desire to desire to be open to God, and God's grace, is a prayer in itself, a prayer which will be answered. You don't have to do anything other than decide that you want the gift of an open heart. Actually, beyond that, you can't do anything because you're not in control. You can't seize the grace, earn or merit it; you part is to desire it and accept it when it's given. When it is, and you recognize in that inner part of your being that God is working in you, a practical help that I have found comes from a Jesuit discernment practice. Imagine the path you might be called to follow - does it feel like water dripping onto a hard rock and bouncing off, or does it feel like water dripping onto a sponge and being soaked up? If the latter, then it is probably the right path.

For me, entering the monastery has always felt like water soaking into a sponge. However, that doesn't mean that I don't get distracted and irritated by the difficulties that are part of daily living, and sometimes they make me feel I'd rather be a million miles away in some other life. At these times, I find it helpful to go back to the moment of enlightenment, when God felt so close and the call so clear,  and ask myself, "Has anything really happened that negates the truth of that moment?" No. So I dust myself down and keep going.

A final word: discernment is ultimately not about knowing, but about trusting

1 comment:

  1. This was revealing and well written S. Karen. Thanks. - Colleen