Practices of Discernment: Learning to Listen – Elijah’s Experience

Image from The Foundation Stone; blog by by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg.

The following prayer and questions are ones we will draw on in Session Two of our Discernment Series. Session Two is entitled, “Learning to Listen: Practices of Discernment.” We are grateful to our partners at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research for this curriculum and the resources they offer us.

Then the Lord said,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord— but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?”

1 Kings 19:11-13

  • Elijah expected to find God in a powerful force of nature. Instead, God was revealed to him in a “tiny whispering sound.” Have you ever experienced God’s presence in an unexpected way? What did this experience feel like? What did it teach you about God?
  • How do you think God communicates with us? Through other people, nature, music, events, prayer or worship, Scripture or other reading, the needs of the world, or our own thoughts or ideas? Name one or two ways you have experienced God communicating with you in your life. What message did God communicate to you?

A Discernment Story: Part II

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

When I walked into work that Monday morning, the assistant principal at the school approached me about interviewing for the newly posted teaching position. There were two of us in the Professional Practice School who had been asked to apply — one position. In my heart, I knew I didn’t want the job.

The course load was too much; the job, as posted, was inappropriate for any one educator.   Pre-IB English 9, Comprehensive English 10, and Stage Management were the subjects the teacher was being asked to teach. In my two years at the school, I’d covered all of these courses. Individually, I loved them; combined, they were deadly, in my estimation — or again: a recipe for burnout.

The Stage management course alone meant supervising productions and student work on evenings and weekends at the school. Stage Management was a full time job in a school with an active student body and thriving performance arts classes.  The course spilled over from its allotted time into after school hours involving moving vehicles, rental equipment, construction personnel, and collaboration with other faculty, parents and empowered student leaders.  (In my one year of teaching stage management and taking on this role in after school hours,  I recalled being at the school every day straight for the month of March. I still have vivid memories of looking at my watch at 1am  in the auditorium, while wearing an insulation mask and student graffiti artists painted the back wall of the stage for a rock concert production. It was fun. I was tired. It was late. I didn’t need to sign on for more hours than there were in the day to be a good teacher.) I’d happily teach the  English classes. But these two courses to prep for – combined with the stage management responsibilities, were a no go. I knew my limits.

My cousin Jill’s sage counsel still rang in my ears: “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position, before you ask to change it.”  The advice from my elder English and theater teaching cousin, coupled with the priest’s prophetic words at mass at Old Saint Pat’s the day before, (“Ask why you are there. If it’s a not a fit, God will show you an open door.“) gave me a kind of peace in my decision: Yes, I would interview. Yes, I would draw on my experience teaching all the courses. Yes, I would trust that God would show me a way out.

We were building a 17 foot volcano out of chicken wire and paper mache’ that day in the stage management class. I came to school dressed for paint and paper and glue mess, not for interviewing with the faculty and administrative team. I still remember wiping green paint off my jeans when I sat down before my colleagues. I smiled. I was already doing the job they were interviewing me for; the irony and humor were not lost on any of us.

***

My colleague accepted the position about two hours later. I felt relief and a kind of holy gratitude and awe. “What next, God?” I wondered. Surely, I wouldn’t have been given such a strong sign and direct words as that from my dream and the priest, that God would leave me flailing.

Within a week, my full time position at North High for summer school was solidified. I left the seeming  beauty and pristine of a more resourced area of the Twin Cities for north Minneapolis. And my life changed. (The Northside was where I would meet the Vis Sisters after all!)

Epilogue:
I was offered a full time job for the regular school year on my last day teaching summer school at North High. My colleague, who accepted the post we had both interviewed for,  resigned two months into the following school year citing mental health issues. I learned this from our mentor at the Professional Practice School. “Does an ‘I told you so” make you feel better, Melis?” she asked.
“Perhaps vindicated,” I think now.

I thank God for the directions my life has taken,  my journey to north Minneapolis, and the way Spirit has lead me.

Invitation to reflect:
What is your story? How have you arrived in your own particular perch or area of the world? What has inspired your course of action or decision making? How has your heart, mind, and prayer lead you? What sage counsel have you sought in discerning your next best step? How have dreams influenced your journey ? What wise, inspired, pastoral presence or mentorship has influenced, or affirmed your discernment process?

I welcome your words.