Discernment Flows From A Deeper Place
During the School of Discernment a few weeks ago, Kathleen Cahalan described discernment in a way that was particularly meaningful. She said discernment can be practiced as a disposition, a way of life, instead of an occasional exercise we take up when we have a big decision to make. I was drawn to the picture of discernment as an orientation toward life with decisions flowing from a deeper place.
The idea of deep flowing place is what drew me in. For years I have described my own journey with discernment like a turtle on land, searching for the sea. Looking back at past discernment, I moved slowly and deliberately, waiting to sense how the Spirit was moving before I acted. In most situations, it takes me little time to process. Water represented the way forward, the life-giving path, and perhaps even God Godself. Kathleen’s teaching reminded me that unlike mundane decisions, true discernment flows from a deeper place.
Turtles move slowly (and clumsily) when they are on land, but when they hit the water, it is a completely different story. In their preferred element, they move freely and gracefully. That is how I have long pictured my discernment. I ponder and consider and wait. I move carefully and deliberately until I finally reach the water, when I dive in and swim freely.
Water Even In My Cells
All weekend long I held the image of water closely, wondering what else I might notice about the Holy Spirit and my discernment. Water is dynamic. Water is life-giving. Water is essential. It can be calm (like a still pond) or active (like a river or a raging sea). When we encounter the crashing waves of the ocean, we recognize how much is outside of our control. Water also helps us understand both the transcendence and the immanence of God. Water is part of our atmosphere, part of the very air we breathe. At the same time, our very cells are made up of water.
Now the water metaphor for God’s presence was really coming home in a different way. God’s presence is not a body of water just out of reach or a place I have to crawl toward. Rather, living water is in me and all around me. There is literally nowhere I can go where I am not surrounded by and filled by God. I continue to think of myself as a turtle. But I am a turtle who is not only made in the image of God, but infused by that God-like water in every cell of my body. For this turtle to take on a disposition of discernment, an orientation to the water, is to live the paradox of journeying toward the sea and living confident that the holy is already surrounding and infusing my very being.
Following the Flow of Discernment
As I understand what my own disposition of discernment looks like, my body is both resting in and comprised of God’s presence. I cannot escape the deep flowing presence of God. As the Psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” That assurance makes me want to live even more in a discerning way, grateful for the presence of God in me when I feel like a turtle on dry land, and inspired to keep seeking deeper waters where I can swim more and more gracefully. As I hear myself say this, I feel both comforted and challenged. It’s hard to imagine the Holy Presence so close that it’s in me. I have more practice imagining God over there in waters I can’t yet reach. But if I listen to my body wherever I am, even my cells will cry out that God is present—intimately, essentially present. My discernment flows from there.