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Discernment as a Way of Life

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Slides from an all-day retreat for the Benedictine Oblates of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Using the tools of Ignatian discernment, but adapting them to Benedictine spirituality. http://duluthoblates.org

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Discernment as a Way of Life

  1. 1. Discernment as a Way of Life Sister Edith Bogue Duluth Benedictine Oblates 14 April 2018
  2. 2. Horarium • Check-in • Opening Prayer • Discernment: what is it? • Discernment of Spirits • Dialogue • Lunch – the day’s manual labor • Prepare for lunch • Lunch • Clean-up • Discernment of actions • Dialogue • Closing Prayer
  3. 3. Help me today to realize that you will be speaking to me through the events of the day, through people, through things, and through creation. Give me ears, eyes and heart to perceive you, however veiled your presence may be. Give me insight to see through the exterior of things to the interior truth. Give me your Spirit of discernment. O Lord, you know how busy I must be this day. If I forget you, do not forget me. Jacob Astley (1579-1652)
  4. 4. Discernment: What is happening?
  5. 5. Learning Discernment “When I first engaged in this interior work, I underestimated the effort entailed. I didn’t take up the edges that words like “combat” and “athlete” connote. … I thought those military words were not necessary… The trick is to be focused and ready like a warrior or a world-class athlete, but at the same time be meek and docile like a fawn at daybreak.” Margaret Funk, OSB in Discernment Matters, Ch 1.
  6. 6. When did discernment begin? • Psalm 119:125 I am your servant; give me discernment, that I may understand your statutes. • Job’s dilemma: Discerning his deeds and God’s will • John the Baptist: “Is this the Messiah or do I wait…?” • Paul in Philippians 1:9-10 “…that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”
  7. 7. Monastic Tradition • Central aspect of desert spirituality • Praying scripture to learn to see with God’s eyes and perspective • The Desert Abbas and Ammas, trained and focused, could “give a word” to those who sought guidance because they were able to discern their spiritual issue. • Cenobitic monasteries continue prayer and silence, but also the discernment that comes from living in community. • The abbot/prioress’ discernment
  8. 8. Benedict’s School of the Lord's Service (Prologue 45-50) •Planful. Intentional. •Progression so that later work builds on first. •Guidance, someone who has a watchful eye. •Those who follow the plan can reach the goal.Photo by Capturing the human heart. on Unsplash
  9. 9. Where do we start? By seeing where we are. • Listen for the call. ("If today you hear…") • Learn to observe the motions of your heart, the “stirrings of the spirit,” within you. • Keep track of the result, the outcome: are you drawn closer to God, or more distant? Photo by John Baker on Unsplash
  10. 10. Discernment of Spirits
  11. 11. St. Ignatius of Loyola Studied and gave a set of guidelines • “Still there was this difference: that when he was thinking about that worldly stuff he would take much delight, but when he left it aside after getting tired, he felt dry and discontented. • But when about not eating except herbs, and about doing all the other rigours he was seeing the saints had done, not only used he to be consoled while in such thoughts,but he would remain content and happy even after having left them aside. (The pilgrim’s story, nr 8)
  12. 12. First process of Discernment of Spirits • Discernment of spirits = discernment of interior movements. These spirits include: • thoughts • imaginings • emotions • inclinations • desires • feelings • repulsions • attractions • Discernment means being sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, understanding where they come from and where they lead us. • http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/discernment-of- spirits/#sthash.BR0e4uez.dpuf
  13. 13. Three step process 1. Be aware of interior movements 2. Understand the source and direction of those interior movements 3. Take action to work with or counteract the source Timothy Gallagher, Discernment of Spirits, p. 17-26
  14. 14. “Consolation” •directs our focus beyond ourselves •lifts our hearts so we feel empathy with other people •bonds us more closely to our human community •generates new inspiration and ideas •restores balance and refreshes our wider vision •releases new energy in us from The Inner Compass by Margaret Silf
  15. 15. “Desolation” •turns us in on ourselves •drives us deeper into our own negative feelings •cuts us off from community •makes us want to give up on •takes over our whole consciousness •drains us of energy from The Inner Compass by Margaret Silf
  16. 16. Three step process 1. Be aware of interior movements 2. Understand the source and direction of those interior movements 3. Take action to work with or counteract the source Timothy Gallagher, Discernment of Spirits, p. 17-26
  17. 17. “Good spirit” •The “good spirit” in an inclusive sense: •Angelic beings •Communion of saints •Grace •Tendencies within us that draw us to God •Influences in the world that lead us to God
  18. 18. “The Enemy” The “Enemy” of our spiritual progress is any force working against God, natural or “diabolical.” • An angelic being • The “adversary” • The “father of lies” Our tendency to egoism • Disordered desires • Our own wounding from life • The weakness inherent in our humanity The world around us • Society • Culture The desert abbas and Ignatius tell us that we should expect resistance from these when we seek to grow close to God. Lived monastic experience confirms it.
  19. 19. Finding the Thoughts The ancient monks of the desert prayed intently, and watched the course of their prayer life. They found that, long before an action that moved away from God, a thought was the seed. They determined to learn the patterns. The THOUGHTS are “afflictive” – if allowed to continue, they take over and lead to misery and eventually sin.
  20. 20. Journal Reflect Pray
  21. 21. Discernment of Spirits
  22. 22. Three step process 1. Be aware of interior movements 2. Understand the source and direction of those interior movements 3. Take action to work with or counteract the source Timothy Gallagher, Discernment of Spirits, p. 17-26
  23. 23. Learning Discernment “Thoughts are the heart of discernment. We can sort them according to content (8 deadly thoughts) … by seeing the stage of their rising and clustering … by looking at their sources, directions and ‘spirits’ … according to frequency and persistence.” Margaret Funk, OSB in Discernment Matters, Ch 1.
  24. 24. What actions do we take? • Rule 5: When in desolation, do not change a decision that was made while in consolation, and do not make any new decisions. = Benedictine STABILITY • Rule 6: When in desolation, fight against what is causing the signs of desolation. You can intensify prayer, do works of charity or examine yourself to discover what inside is responding to the Enemy. = Benedictine HUMILITY • Rule 8: Patience helps us bear the frustrations or dryness of desolation. Remember that God will offer consolation, & take action as in rule 6 = Benedictine STABILITY and OBEDIENCE See handout
  25. 25. LUNCH PREP •The daily manual labor •Slice tomatoes •Wash and prep lettuce •Set out meats, cheeses for serving •Put chips etc into bowls •Set out cupcakes for desert •Set out plates, cutlery, napkins •Put chickpea salad (spicy) into serving bowl •When all is ready, pray Grace
  26. 26. CLEAN UP •The daily manual labor •Put leftover food back into its containers or wrap •Put any waste into trash •Wash dishes •Dry dishes •Put dishes away •Wipe tables •When all is finished, smile
  27. 27. Discernment of Choices
  28. 28. Preparation for Choices •Draws on the discernment of spirits •First, be aware of your movement and your state. •We already know that choosing while in desolation is unwise; seek to move out of the desolation first. •Discernment of choices can use the same three steps, but in a different way
  29. 29. Three steps + One 1. Be aware of the options. State each of them clearly and with specificity. 2. Understand the options. • Gather information as needed. • Consider consequences and side effects • Explore feelings and relationships • Try to remain balanced between them • Seek input from trusted others. 3. Make a choice for one 4. Notice the results of making that choice in your emotions, actions, and spiritual life. Verify or question.
  30. 30. “Is there anything more painful than realizing you did not know the right questions to ask at the only time on earth you would have the opportunity to do so.” Alice Walker: The way Forward is with a Broken Heart.
  31. 31. Look at choices to understand not only the external reality but the feelings and movement it elicits in your own heart.
  32. 32. Journal / Reflection
  33. 33. Faults, Errors, Correction • The process of understanding the thoughts includes the willingness to manifest them. • When the thoughts are revealed, the distractor loses power, and the person can be healed. • Spiritual direction and confession are both modern- day aspects of this practice. 33
  34. 34. “Is there something about sharing the secret of one’s heart with another person...which liberates in a way that solitary confession in prayer does not?” Stewart, Columba, The Desert Fathers on Radical Self-Honesty in Vox Benedictina: A Journal of Translations from Monastic Sources 8/1 (1991):
  35. 35. DANGER: SPIRITUAL BYPASSING Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. “We have an astonishing ability to fool ourselves, and an equally astonishing ability to cut through what’s in the way of seeing more clearly... However unwittingly or unconsciously, we invite in circumstances that bring our dissatisfaction to such a peak ... that something has to give, providing us with whatever rough grace is needed.” – Robert Augustus Masters
  36. 36. Manifestation of Thoughts • We may lack awareness & vocabulary for our inner lives – we rarely talk about them. • We may have trouble trusting others, or there may not be a trustworthy person. • We may be afraid of being challenged to change. • We may fear losing the respect of the other person.
  37. 37. Love and Loving After ascending all these steps of humility, one will arrive at that perfect love of God that casts out fear. Through this love, all that was once performed with dread, will now be observed without effort, as though naturally, from habit ... out of love for Christ. RB 7.67-68
  38. 38. • The anchor of self-love and self- will has been removed. • The obstacles of difficulties with others have been removed. • Acceptance brings openness to God’s love.
  39. 39. There is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell There is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and eternal life. RB 72.1-2
  40. 40. "Prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together into everlasting life"
  41. 41. “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
  43. 43. Discernment as a Way of Life Sister Edith Bogue Duluth Benedictine Oblates 14 April 2018