I was recently asked to write a reflection about my discernment leading up to First Profession in January. This article was written for the wonderful NZ publication Tui Motu (seriously worth checking out). I hope it resonates with you. Peace.
When talking with a young friend recently the word ‘discernment’ came up. He looked at me with confusion and said, “What does that mean?” As my forehead assumed the ‘hmmm extract explanation from brain’ pose I found myself explaining discernment as more about listening than thinking. Yes, it is making a decision but in order to make that decision listening and contemplative prayer seem to be at the core of discernment.
When I first felt the allurement to religious life I felt a sense of newness and life. I started to listen to what was happening in my body and to what was shifting within my spirit. When I thought about it I felt alive; this joy and life was stronger than anything else I had experienced before. Even though none of this made any sense to my thinking brain, my heart was starting to sing a new melody. Over time I started to understand that discernment is a feeling not something you can think. A sense of home with God is in the heart, not in the head.
As the months and years passed I started to journey with a spiritual director and I found myself questioning God in prayer…
Why me, I don’t fit the typical ‘nun’ stereotype…?
Will it be life giving?
What will the future be like?
Will I be the last one standing?
How will I help others?
Where will I go?
What will this be like for family and friends?
As my plethora of questions grew, so did my relationship with God; becoming aware of my fears and my joys and how these are woven into faith and spirituality. I had many moments of confusion with an array of “really, seriously God?!!!” moments. And with naivety I figured ‘no no, this religious life thing will just go away, I’ll just go make some inquiries…’ I have a sneaking suspicion that God may have just been laughing at me at this point!
A Jesuit priest once said to me that discernment is like listening to the waters… When you are trying to make a decision and you pray about it, listen to how your spirit feels, is it more like a ship sailing on calm peaceful waters? or are the waters rough with your boat being tossed around like a beach ball?
Don’t get me wrong; this journey has not all been smooth sailing. But for the most part as I have journeyed I have continued to feel a sense of deepening calmness, of peace and of home.
Discernment too is continual, it never stops. It seems that to think I have all the answers would be like saying to God “yea I’ve got this, I don’t need you any more”. Clearly this is not the case, I openly ask God every day in prayer to reveal to me the path to life (Jn 10:10); believing that when you feel most alive you are doing the thing or living the way that you are called to, you are honouring the light within.
As Augustine said “… our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It seems that to think is to control and to listen is to surrender and rest in love. On my life’s journey sometimes the waters have been changeable, but by listening in prayer I find peace, light and I am filled with gratitude. I am alive by sailing into the light of God’s melody. I hope this melody will ring out strong for you too…
On this earth, I am a finite candle
You hold the infinite match
Thank you for my light
With you I shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
(Prayer written for First Profession)
Jane Maisey rsj