“How can we hear and respond to God’s call for our lives?”

Laura Kelly Fanucci

Laura Kelly Fanucci

by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Project Researcher, Collegeville Institute

From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.

How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.

Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?

The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.

Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.

The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.

But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:

“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.

And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.

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Excerpted from “Called to Life: Reflecting on Vocation” a curriculum we are using as part of the Following the Spirit discernment series. We are happy to be able to share this as a resource from the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion; Co-Facilitator, “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series

Drawing on the Quakers: Practicing Clearness Committee

Image from UCC: 7 Steps to Discerning Your Vocation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“Many of us are drawn to this way of listening and leading in the midst of complex, diverse settings–and we hunger to do it with more integrity and in more connection with others on this path.” – Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century

It’s a Sunday afternoon in April, and I am with a group of thirty or so other women and men in the Carondelet Center – a retreat space of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. We are convened for a workshop entitled, “Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century.” I am grateful to be one among many, joined by several Visitation Sisters and Companion friends. We are leaders; we are contemplative-sorts; we aspire to be Spirit-led. We are here to practice and grow in our abilities to tune in and take our next steps, listening to the Divine, for the benefit of our communities.

“There is a way of leading that trusts that an invisible force, much larger than our own will, is seeking to work through us individually and together. This force moves toward wholeness and is actively seeking to be in relationship with us. Through stillness, discernment, and reflective action it is possible to move in close connection with this force–in business, in social change, and personally.” – From Spirit-Led Leadership

On this day, we are led by Margaret Benefiel and Michael Bischoff. It was Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM who circulated the invitation amongst our Companions, and my recent experience under Michael’s leadership at a Social Innovation Lab event, that catalyzed my limbs. Yes! I will go! Yes! This will be helpful!

To this day, I am drawing on the experiences of that afternoon in almost every conscious working, waking, moment.

“How can I listen well? How can I know with a sense of peace and freedom what it means to choose wisely, powerfully, and take my next step?”

Clearness Committee Experience

After introductions, and a grounding in the theory behind this kind of work, our room of thirty plus individuals divided into triads, and Margaret led us through a practice the Quakers call a “Clearness Committee.”

Through quiet and meditation, we identified our root sources, the strength of our being, the Spirit’s presence, and recognized our safety in this circle.

The protocol for this experience was clearly stated and posted. As participants, we simply listened to the instructions, and were free then to tune in, quietly, to all stirring and movement up within ourselves and inside our groups.

  1. We began with a minute of silence, holding the first of our three group members in our hearts, focusing on them, the circumstances they were about to describe for our triad.
  2. We listened intently for three minutes to presenter number one. Without interruption, we tuned into their words and what we felt their heart to be saying.
  3. We had an opportunity to then pose simple, clarifying questions.
  4. We returned to quiet and prayer, holding the focus person and the circumstances in our heart, cherishing the person and the gifts he or she brings to the world.
  5. After another sixty seconds, we took turns giving voice to the information surfacing in our own hearts. We echoed back statements of the speaker. We paraphrased with as much integrity as possible their circumstances. We communicated that they had been heard. We put words to the questions that bubbled up in our hearts and minds — with the goal of helping the focus person get in touch with their own deep wisdom.  The speaker-leader-discerner just listened. During this time, one of us took notes for the presenter to review later.
  6. Before our last movement of the clearness committee, we paused again, bowing our heads, or closing our eyes, to honor the sacredness of this time.
  7. As a closing to the 25 minute clearness committee discernment activity, the speaker was invited to share which form of closing they desired. A prayer? A song? A dance? More silence?

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I invite you into this experience today. Seek out a circle. Claim the quiet. Recognize the Spirit at work in your life — leading, nudging, loving you.

 

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For more information on Quaker Clearness Committee:
The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach To Discernment
by Parker J. Palmer

“Following the Spirit:” Discernment Tools for Your Life

Princess small group

How do we hear God’s voice?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Monday, February 25, 2013, marks our second discernment session of the “Following the Spirit” series at St. Jane House. This evening will focus on how we tune in and hear God’s voice and invitation for our lives. What follows are a few links to resources for discernment that we are offering here for participants and blog readers alike.

These tools include:

Blessings on your journey!