Thursday, December 15, 2016

Discernment in the Open

Dear friends,

Thank you for checking out my blog and reading its content.  With our lives constantly consumed by a multitude of distractions, I am grateful that you have decided to share a few moments of your day with me.  I hope that I can meet some of you in the Spirit of communion and Christ that unites us all and leads us to the Father.

This week I found myself in possession of a popular discernment book called Listening Hearts by Suzanne Farnham, Joseph Gill, R. Taylor Mclean, and Susan Ward.  This book has become a staple in assisting people who are considering paths to lay or ordained ministry or simply wish to discern a deeper sense of God's call in their lives.  The funny, fateful moment about how this book found its way into my hands is that I originally searched for it in the St. George's College Library's digital catalogue and saw no record of it.  Thus, I decided to search for a book by Thomas Merton -a popular theologian of the 20th century- whom I am beginning to read more of as I grow spiritually.  As I was about to locate the Merton book I had picked out, I looked down on the shelf and saw a copy of Listening Hearts. For me, this was a sign that I should read this book.  Also, it was further humbling and affirming to see that all four of the authors had signed and donated this copy of the book to the College's library, thus I sensed that the Hand of the Unseen was at work.  A quick read, I enjoyed my Sabbath day-off (Friday) reading the book and taking detailed notes while doing my laundry.

Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community, recommended to 
anyone who is exploring God's call
In this book I have learned several important insights that are helping me to listen, understand, and reflect on God's call in my life (I am currently exploring a call to the diaconate with my Parish Committee back in Vermont).  In the opening lines, it says "in responding to God's call, we discover ourselves." (p. 2)  For me, this simple yet powerful statement rings true.  When I was 23 and studying for my BA in History, I remember praying to God for guidance and direction in my life, asking questions like "God, what is my purpose? God, what am I supposed to do?"  I began to sense a dawning, a feeling, a call to be a better person and serve others in the world.  At the time, this sense of call seemed more worldly than divine, but as time passed and I continued to listen and seek the Lord, I discovered that it was the Spirit all along who had been trying to get my attention.  

"I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Psalm 32.8)

Slowly, I changed old habits, gave up my attachment to certain desires, and reconciled past traumas and conflicts.  The more I petitioned God for help and support, the more He answered me.  Never perfect, my faith led me to see more and more of God's truth made manifest in my life and in the world.  This ability to see, listen, hear, and respond to God is a life-long process that requires discipline and care.  It requires one's constant and full attention -something we all can neglect from time to time.  In responding to what I thought God was telling me do, I became a different person, transformed and made anew in Christ. This gradual transformation reveals the true Jack Mann Karn, and God's work is far from finished.

I have learned the meaning of and difference between the terms "call" and "discernment" -an important distinction for the focus person and their supporting community who are engaged in this process.  Call is God communicating with us that which he seeks us to do.  Each of us receives a call from God, and a call usually involves helping or serving others.  All true calls ask us to obey God. (p. 13)  Discernment refers to the process of discovering, distinguishing, and understanding this call, requiring us to look internally and externally for how to respond.  God doesn't just give us all the answers easily, but asks that we take responsibility and make an intentional effort to hear what He is saying.  

"The ability to discern develops from living the life of the Spirit, a process of growth involving an ever-greater integrating of desires, feelings, reactions, and choices with a continuing commitment to abide in Christ... As we move toward spiritual maturity, we move beyond the need for specific rules and answers into the darkness of God where we must act in faith rather than certainty.  In discernment we move through and beyond our feelings, our thoughts, and our reasoning about what God wants of us, to be led by God's spirit toward action." (p. 25-26)

The formal discernment process exploring my call to the Permanent Diaconate is in its early stages, and I feel it is going well, with our Parish Discernment Committee just finishing up its third meeting. Through our conversations, prayer, reflection, and reading this book, I am opening myself up to all possibilities and outcomes, remembering that through faith God will reveal his will and call in my life.  I pray that we all possess the sight and presence of mind to do same.

In Christ,
Jack Karn