“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!

Thresholds: On the Theology of Letting Go

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Whew, talk about thresholds, nothing seems so cyclical as the start of the school year to give a gentle and stunning reminder of the sacred walk of liminal space. When you are no longer on one side of the bridge and are yet to reach the other end, you my friend are indeed in the glorious and troublesome in-between space of becoming. Some argue this is a constant if you are to truly live out your vocation of being authentically human and real.

NNOP2012.lChildren in north Minneapolis mark this threshold by attending the back to school party the Sisters host where supplies are given to prepare them for the doorways they are about to cross. We give children not only school supplies, but also we hope, coping supplies to handle the nervouseness, the anxiety, the anticipation, the excitement, the dread, the unknown of what will this next year at this school hold for me? Will I be loved? Will I be recognized? Will I have friends? Will I find familiar faces in my classroom? On my playground? In my neighborhood? Will my teacher like me? Can I go from getting into trouble a lot to no longer? Will people recognize the change, the growth, the maturity that the bounty of summer has graced me with as green leaves give way to fall colors? Will my reputation proceed me? Or my brother or sister’s reputation light the path for me or cause me to work extra hard to change perceptions laid? Will my mom and dad be ok without me? What will after school feel like when I have worked hard all day to hold it together for my new teacher? My new classmates? My new environment? Will my gifts of bug catching, noticing colors, recognizing faces, making friends, be honored and encouraged? Will my teacher, my principal, my school be a nice place to spend a lot of my time? Will I feel safe and loved enough to be authentically myself?

St. Francis de Sales instructs how to calm the anxious nervous energies of our little ones by role modeling inner peace for them, we invite them into the calm:

Finding Inner Peace

“Do not anticipate the events of this life with anxiety, but await them with a sure hope that as they occur, God to whom we belong will deliver you from them. God has protected you up to now, just hold on securely to the hands of Divine Providence which will help you in every circumstances, carrying you when you cannot walk. So do not think what would happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and every day, either protecting you from evil or giving you invincible courage to bear it. Remain at peace then, and remove from your imagination whatever could trouble you.

Belong totally to God, think of God who will be thinking of you. God has drawn you to Himself so that you may belong to Him and God will take care of you. Do not be afraid, for as little chicks feel perfectly safe when they are under their mother’s wings, how secure should the children of God feel under His maternal protection, so be at peace, since you are one of His little children, and let your weary restless heart rest against this sacred loving breast of your Savior, who by His providence is a Father to His children and by gentle tender love is a Mother to them.

First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace and take great care throughout the day to call it back to that peace frequently, so to speak to take your heart back in your hand. If you happen to do something that you regret, you need not be astonished nor upset, but having acknowledge to your failing, humble yourself gently before God and try to regain your composure. Say to yourself, “there we have made a mistake, but let’s go on now and be more careful”. Every time you fall do the same.

When you innerly peaceful, don’t miss the opportunity to act as gently as you can and as frequently as you can, no matter how insignificant the occassion may be, for as our Lord says: “To the person who is faithflul in little things, greater one will be given”.Often says in the midst trials: This is the way to heaven, I see the port ahead and I’m sure that storms cannot prevent me from reaching it.

“My eyes are always on the Lord who frees my feet from the trap”. If you’ve been caught in the trap of life’s difficulties, well, you must not look at your own situation nor the trap that holds you, look at God, let God act and take care of you, cast your burden on the Lord who will nurse you. Why get involved in the pros and cons of things that happening in your life that is out of your control? You don’t really know what is ultimately the best. And God will manage quite well without You putting yourself to a trouble. SO with your mind at peace, await whatever happens. Let the Divine Will be enough for you, since it is always very good.

As God directed St. Catherine of Siena: “Think of me, and I will think of you”.

So as our children begin school, assure them that our bonds defy distance. That God’s love for them shown through our love ofNNOP2012.m them protects and surrounds them with light, love and the courage to learn and grow. That sharing their gifts makes them authentically who they are called to be on earth. That the thread attached to our hearts unravels outward with them as they join their wider community where they share what makes them shine with others. We can watch in amazement, gratitude, and excitement that what was once will never be again. And trust with inner peace that what they are becoming will become again even more beautiful, fiercely dear, and wildly wonderful. We walk in faith with our children’s growth of becoming. It is a walk into the holy liminal space of inner peace. Cultivate inner peace. Pray for it. Share it with our children.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Posted by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93 with gratitude to Rob Brezsny for posting poem and image. bringing both to my attention.


Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93

Sacred space, when analog time holds no meaning,

life suspends itself like a hammock between two rooted trees swaying in the breeze between here and there,

between before and after,

swaying into that intimate space of the present.

When all you can do is breathe, deep breaths, shallow breaths, breaths…because no one can prepare you for the threshold you are crossing over,

they can only silently, reverently, hold a hand,

offer a gaze,

provide a subtle gesture to let you know that you do not walk alone;

the oils you were baptized with, blessed with, live in that garden of your body’s memory.

The hands that laid upon your own still lay there caressing you.

No, no one can do what your life asks of you.

They can just lay down on the tall grass next to you and sigh,

watching with you as the clouds overhead pass,

and notice as the ant climbs that blade of grass near your face and the tall strand curves under its presence,

much like the arc of God’s arms cradle our weight in his embrace as we strive to climb nearer to his heart.

And when we rise together from the summer’s green grass

and look back at the matted imprints our body’s left behind

we know we were there

in that sacred space of raw, real life that brings us to our knees

only to know what it is like to rise rooted again.


(Poem, prayer inspired by the Kiemde family.)

Surprised by Joy

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.

We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”

Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.

Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.

While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN


Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life

Word of Mouth-Something to Meditate On

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Sunday we attended mass at Ascension. After listening to Father Michael O’Connell’s voice read the Gospel with beauty and conviction we listened to him unpack the following scene:

Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.”

Father Michael O’Connell, paused, looked at us, and began to speak of addictions that hold us back, or that might be our “thorn,” to heal from to become whole, able to do God’s will here. Then he became quite serious. He said, “I think our country has an epidemic happening, and the epidemic is talking about people in unkind, unjust ways.” He continued, “The most dangerous weapon I know, and for me to say this in the context of north Minneapolis says something, is right here!” He pointed at his mouth. Silence filled the congregation.

How do we cease this epidemic from continuing? How do we stop it from being passed on to the next generation?

Father O’Connell then lovingly invited us to use our mouths, our voice for love, for healing, for spreading the good news about ourselves and one another. And to let go of what has become a “knee-jerk reaction” in our country of looking for people’s short comings.

I might add to this invitation to not tolerate others talking ill about others in your presence. It is each of our duties to invite one another to use our mouths for the greater good of our community. For far too often what we say becomes not only our perceptions but then our reality. Think with care, and speak with care.

How can you curb the tendency to speak ill-will in your life? How can you use your voice for beauty, for love, for healing, for justice and compassion?

The Vowed Life

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Where do our vows begin?

Practicing our commitments start long before they are actualized. Long before we may even know what we want to become or more importantly who we are to become.

First I do Proclamation in Crazy Coupe Car

First I do Proclamation in Cozy Coupe Car

In the green carpet of closely shaved grass I watched my one year old purposely and excitedly walk around his cozy coupe car and climb inside proudly proclaiming “I do,” as much to himself as to others in his proximity. I watch his feet feel the uneven ground. His sway teeters side to side, his gaze is focused on the task at hand. His first verbal “I do,” to match all the I-doing he has done for the past three months. This is the beginning of a refrain I know I will hear for the upcoming year. We are entering the phase where I back up and watch him do.

In that swift brushstroke of cut-grass-clinging-to-bare-feet-of-a-moment, I realize we start practicing our vows, our commitments long before we choose them or they claim us. We begin vocational practice with our one-year-old phase of “I Dos!” and grow them.

“I do,” an assertion of our autonomous self on any and all chosen tasks. An attitude, which often overrides frustrations, which compels us to practice the mundane until mastery, and which builds a pride and self-confidence that imprints upon our cellular memory.

However, autonomy only exists in relationship with community, and our verbal proclamations exist only in relationship with silence. I spent a morning at Clouds in Water Zen to steep myself in silence amongst others. I craved silence, and wanted it in community. I resisted the urge to fall asleep, head bob after head bob as I sat on my meditation cushion trying to “Be still!” in a Maurice Sendak sort of way. Trying to sink into silence; not sleep. Watching my idealized silence slip away to my reality of surprised exhaustion.

After the silence, Byakuren Judith Ragir gave a Dharma Talk on the Five Ranks of Buddhism, asking us to think about it more as a landscape you move through over and over again.”To meet what is before you with intimacy whatever that is, is a marker of a development of mature faith.” Ragir took both hands scooping the air before her toward her heart and repeated, “To meet what is your present with intimacy.” Then she let the silence fall before her and amongst us.

Five year old Nizzel George

Five year old Nizzel George

Ahhh I sighed, but how do you meet with intimacy tragedy from violence? How does a mother or grandmother do as the gospel implores us, “To harden not our hearts,(Ps 95:8)” when only last week a five year old boy from north Minnepolis, Nizzel, was shot by a spray of bullets as he slept on his grandmother’s couch. Nizzel was buried today, and according to the Star Tribune “Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. ended the ceremony with a call for the north side to stop the violence, ‘Let’s call it the Nizzel Pledge,’ he said.” It is an image that sears me as I sit on my couch, my back to my picture window, my boys alive before me, tears stream down my face, as I sit in silence listening. Listening to Sister Katherine share, “Only five years old. His life, as is everyone’s was so worth living. Nizzel, we will be with your mom, dad and grandma and everyone else at Shiloh Temple, lovingly supporting your family. Your grandma came to our house last night. We prayed and cried together. You were a wonderful child.”

Silence will give way to celebration tomorrow. On a day when firecrackers ring, hearts break open again as we remember the loss of Anthony, a young African American teen from north Minneapolis, who died far too young two years ago on the fourth of July. Well before his “I dos” were realized.

As I listen to firecrackers sound tonight I cannot help but think for some the sounds ricochet like haunted bullets and I find I jump at their sound as I write this. Or for war veterans and refugees the sight of them exploding in the night sky brings flash backs of bombs, terror one cannot fully heal from.

Yet our gospel call is to live our “I do’s, to harden not our hearts, and to meet what is before us with intimacy,” whew no easy task! Lately, when I do my morning runs, I practice running with my chest open to the world so that my heart leads my runs, with my gaze strong and steady at a distant point so as not to lose sight of what is before me, pleading my awareness, begging me to meet it with intimacy. I practice an open sure-footed posture as I hit the uneven ground beneath me.

We need silence. We need good posture toward others and ourselves. We need the courage and practice to say I do out loud long before we say it to a lifelong commitment. It starts when we are one, fresh feet kissing the green earth, walking with a proud posture exploring our infinite world, proclaiming I do as we climb into our cozy coupe cars ready to steer our paths toward deeper joy and open to that which may break our hearts.

Geographical Discernment

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Yesterday, I was in Collegeville, MN having a conversation about monastic vocations and young people. No sooner was I in the midst of what twenty-somethings are passionate about and who they are today, than I was thrown back into who I was then, as a twenty something myself.

I criss-crossed the country six times before I was 30, backpacked Europe, worked in Central America, held seven jobs, completed two masters degrees, and was married, and tried for a child the last four years of that decade. It was a decade filled with adventure, loaded with questions, laced with story.

I spent six of those years in Chicago living among college friends, near my brother and his family, and pursuing studies that inspired me. I pursued some work that told me what I was not supposed to do, sell real estate; and other work that gave me great joy, looking at people’s vocational calls. There in Chicago, I came to a cross roads when my vocational work beckoned me to California.

Newly married, I not only had to discern if this next step was “good for me,” but for us? We would be leaving family, and a community of friends from undergraduate work, graduate studies, volunteer work, and professional endeavors to a place we knew no one. My partner did not have work there, but did not love the work he was currently doing. We had student loans to pay off, and debt to wrestle. On paper we had more reason to stay rooted in Chicago than to leap to California, but our hearts were already gone, and our gut whispered sternly go and trust.

As St. Francis de Sales says, “Pray about it, seek wise council, make a decision and don’t look back.”

We did. We spent two years living in northern California. We paid down debt. We learned a new culture and how to make friends there. We learned to rely on one another. We learned to tell the seasons by what is in bloom not by the markings of snow or the absence of leaves. We were blessed with a child. Peter let go of work that was no longer life giving to pursue work that bought joy and addressed environmental needs. And two years later, when life called us back to the road, we learned to let go and return home.

Where we called home for two years...

Discerning a move? Leaving for college? Finishing school? Called to live intentionally? Wondering where your gifts are leading you–are calling you?

First quiet your mind by finding silence, stillness, and listen to your heart, what is it longing for? Where can you find this longing? This calling? Dream about it. Then start to explore possibilities, talk with people, ask questions, listen to their stories and see what arises. Are there any concrete options for you to further pursue? If so, go for it, apply, and see how you feel about the option once you have the details before you. (Deeper discernment can not occur fully until you have real possibilities to discern.) If it is a go, pack your bags, try it. If not return to your breath, return to your heart’s desire, and see if it’s shifted, looks different or is still revealing itself.

Sometimes geographical discernment leads you back home and other times keeps you planted where you currently stand–whichever your outcome honor it. Let your roots grow wild and fierce like a dandelion’s– a deep vertical plunge and the wingspan of an eagle.

Expectation & Intention

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

What is the difference between the two you might ask, (and I had some ask after my last post regarding attachment)?

With intentions you imagine and invite what you hope for into your life or situation, but there is room, sometimes ample room for different outcomes to present itself. In short, you are not attached to the outcome, because you trust that the outcome is what it is.

Expectations are not as fluid as intentions. Usually when we have expectations we are more married to the outcome matching what we expect and when it does not we become dissappointed, angry, or upset that it did not go our way. This often leads to our suffering. Suffering usually occurs when we can not accept our present moment because we were attached to what we wanted the present to be, and it is not the present that is before us.

The role of intention is important! If we want to become our best selves, then inviting ourselves into what we intend, what we hope, and how we envision to share our gifts with others is important. We need to set the intentions and be in dialogue with our intentions as they organically shift and come into being.

What are you intending for your life? How do you bring your intentions to prayer? How do you invite others into your intentions? Please share so we may all grow from one another’s wisdom and support your intentions into being.


Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

I often find inspiration in poems and literature. The poem below has long been a favorite poem of mine and speaks to the rapture of being alive, and the mindfulness of finding more beauty in the world, which Sister Katherine wisely commented has the power to transform violence into love.

Sister Katherine said: “I am more and more aware of the importance of pointing out beauty to the children in our neighborhood-adults too. Like a bird song they night miss, a butterfly that flies by in our garden, one lovely flower. (I like it when people point out something to me). I invite them to listen, smell or see all kinds of things beautiful. Someone said, ‘Beauty is the biggest deterrent to violence.’ We can give peace in so many ways, can’t we?”

So in the spirit of summer coming in full force with the ritual of the last days of school upon us, and a hope that children every where stay safe especially those in north Minneapolis when summer can mean a spike in violence, may each of us point out the beauty each life makes in this one “wild and precious life.”

Summer Day

Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008.