Cultivating Discernment

For Lent Week 2

Dolores Mission Ignatius

The word discernment normally appears in our life during times of major life transitions. As I’m entering into my own season of discernment, though, I am realizing that I have misunderstood what discernment actually means. I am learning, particularly through the Ignatian tradition, that discernment is a spiritual practice cultivated over time and not just in my personal moments of crisis. It is a practice we train ourselves in through the everyday, and when those moments of major transitions emerge we are ready for them. Below are the movements of discernment that can be happening at the same time or one at a time:

Movement I: I like the image that Fr. James Martin gives: Imagine that you brought in a glass of water from a nearby river and picture that glass of water sitting on a window sill. Over time the silt from the river will settle to the bottom of the glass and the water itself will become more pure. In the place of discernment, we begin with stillness. We let our anxieties, fears, self-doubt, and pride settle to the bottom so that we can engage discernment with a pure heart. We need a lot of practice in doing this.

Movement II: Discernment includes a process of knowing yourself. It is asking God to reveal to you who God sees in you and also to reveal to you who you are not. We need to know ourselves and who God created us to be in order to make decisions. Furthermore, in discernment your desires matter. What you want matters to God. Express them honestly. At the same time be ready and open if God wants to re-form and re-shape your desires.

Movement III: In discernment we listen to our interior movements or what Ignatius called discernment of spirits. We separate the things in both our outer life and inner life that are either consolations (bring us towards God) or desolations (bring us away from God). Our life journey should always move us towards more consolations and less desolations.

Movement IV: In discernment we always wait and hear before acting. This teaches us to not give into the hurriedness and urgency we often feel.

Movement V: Bring in your community to support you in your discernment processes. This is perhaps the hardest part for me. Share what God is doing in your life. And when needed ask those that know you to speak into your life. Ask them to ask you good questions.

Movement VI: Ultimately when we practice discernment as an everyday spiritual practice we also train ourselves to recognize the voice of the Father.

In this second week of lent practice discernment. What are the questions or unknowns you’re experiencing in your life right now? What are the big or small things in your life that create dissonance in you right now? As you go to God each day this week bring these matters with you into prayer and practice discernment.

Reference: Martin, James. 2010. The Jesuit guide to (almost) everything: a spirituality for real life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.