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PRAYER AND DISCERNMENT RESOURCES GUIDE (PRINTABLE PDF)

Why discernment?

Discernment has been a part of Christian spirituality from its conception.

Critical to discernment is the virtue, “Wisdom” (in Greek, Σοφία, Sophia). In ancient Greek culture, Wisdom was pictured as a woman. Philo, an ancient Hellenized (Greek-speaking) Jew, used the term “Logos” (word) to talk about Wisdom as it appeared in the Hebrew Scriptures. This image of Wisdom became a foundational part of the Gospeller John’s explanation of who Jesus was: the Word (Logos). Because Wisdom is a feminine term in Greek – the name Sophia is a common female name -Jesus is sometimes associated with or depicted as having feminine qualities.

Today, we speak of wisdom as deep or experiential knowledge of how the world works.

Discernment then is the application of wisdom. Wisdom is often described as a gift or charism God gives creatures, but that doesn’t mean only the exceptionally wise can exercise Christian discernment practices.

Christian discernment can be an individual or group practice. Whenever we have very important decisions about congregational life we exercise discernment.

 When should we use structured Christian Discernment Practices?

When we follow Jesus, we have a special need to listen in as many ways as possible to God speaking to us.

As individuals we make decisions that require wisdom all the time. There are moments when even small decisions have a big impact on others and us. Even something as simple as responding to a question, “How do I look?” requires that we do a bunch of ethical, theological and interpersonal calculations.

If you don’t think the person looks great, should you tell them they do to make them feel more accepted and confident? (interpersonal)

Is this a lie that is ok? Are any lies ok? (ethical)

How do we balance the competing demands of love and truth as they are described in Scripture? (theology)

Discernment practices provide structure for you to focus on what’s most important to you and the behavioral commands embodied by Jesus and found in Scripture.

Some examples of Individual and Community Discernment are found below.

Individual Discernment

Relationships

  • Should I marry this person?
  • Can I remain in a relationship with a person who has betrayed my trust?
  • Should I be a Mom/Dad/Parent?

Transitions

  • Where should I live?
  • Should I have this medical treatment?
  • Is it time to end my medical treatment?

Vocation

  • What ministries is God calling me to carry out?
  • What kind of work should I do to make a living?
  • What school should I attend?
  • Is this job a good fit or not?

Community Discernment

  • Church life
  • Who has the gifts we need to lead _____ ministry?
  • How should we use and talk about money?
  • Who should our spiritual leader and pastor be?

Tradition

  • Should the church change its practices? (Examples: Should the church fully include LGBTQ people in our common life and ministry? Should the church offer Communion to the unbaptized?)

Exercise: Hot Air Balloon Guided Imagery

The Rev. Arienne Davison

 You are about to go on the adventure of a lifetime in a hot air balloon!

As you walk to the basket, you look up and see the fire and hot air fill the balloon. The fire is the Holy Spirit. She will bring you every place you need to go. The basket is the Body of Christ, the Church. She will carry you on your Way. Who needs to come on this journey with you? What people’s lives are closely linked with yours? What covenants with people can you not leave behind?

As you (and your tribe) enter the basket, you notice that the basket is anchored to the ground with ropes tied to stakes. These ropes are keeping the balloon from floating away while you climb in. What ropes are keeping you in the place you are? What relationships, dynamics, and situations have bogged you down? What ties would you like to cut?

The balloon is aloft. Your anticipation grows. There is so much of Creation to see! There are so many places you could go. What new possibilities excite you the most? What parts of the world or experiences do you want to seek out on the Way?

On the way, you will need nourishment. What things do you truly need to survive? What comforts do you really want on the way? What feeds you?


A Simple Examen

Ms. Diana Bender

Preparation: You may wish to find a quiet space. Do whatever helps you to feel centered and reflective. Begin by taking a few deep breaths from the bottom of your toes, up through your legs, your belly, and your chest. Breathe in, make space, breathe out, release.

    1. Place your hand on your heart and acknowledge God’s presence; a God who loves you unconditionally. Breathe in that love.
    2. Ask the Spirit (Jesus or God as you understand God) to bring to your heart the moment today for which you are most grateful. If you could relive one moment, what would it be? (There are additional questions below to deepen this moment if you wish to use them) Bask in the remembrance of the life you experienced in that moment.
    3. Ask God to bring to your heart the moment today for which you are least grateful. When were you least able to give and receive love? Where did you feel depleted or “tangled up?” (additional questions below) Ask yourself what was said and done in that moment that made it so difficult. Be with whatever you feel without trying to change or fix it in any way. You may wish to be still and breathe gently into that place…both tending to it and experiencing release or forgiveness in the light of God’s love.
    4. Close by giving thanksfor whatever you have experienced. What grace would you like to ask for as you close this time?
    5. If you’d like, it can be helpful to do this in a journal, or with a friend or spiritual director.

Additional Questions

    • When did I feel most alive today?
    • When today did I give and receive the most love?
    • When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God, Creation?
    • What was today’s high point?
    • When did I feel the most joy?
    • When did I feel the most life draining out of me?
    • When today did I give and receive the least love?
    • When today did I have the least sense of belonging to myself, others, God, Creation?
    • What was today’s low point?
    • When today did I feel the most sadness or anxiety?

Art Stevens Model (Adapted)

This model is used by the Commission on Ministry when discerning recommendations for postulancy, candidacy and ordination. Description of process by the Rev. Arienne Davison

  •  A member of the discernment group undertakes a “discernment leader” role for the community discernment.
    • The Discernment Leader opens by centering the group in prayer for the individual or group and the work of the Congregation or ministry.
  • The Discernment Leader facilitates the asking and answering of any clarifying questions. The facilitator should take care to intervene if questions become statements for or against, or are too suggestive of one choice or another.
  • The Discernment Leader asks that the group name concerns or challenges to the question being discerned.
    • Starting with the discernment leader each member names a concern or challenge the person will face in responding to the question. Ex: Q. Should I discontinue chemotherapy? Concern: You might die really quickly and not get to do things you still want to do. o Members take turns and do not respond to one another’s concerns.
    • Members may pass.
    • After passing a member may share another concern on the next round
    • After all members pass around the circle, this phase of the discernment is concluded.
  • Following a period of re-centering silence or prayer, the Discernment Leader asks that the group to name compelling reasons to respond affirmatively to the question. Ex. Should I discontinue chemotherapy? Affirmation: Discontinuing chemo might relieve your unbearable pain.
    • Members take turns and do not respond to one another’s reasons.
    • Members may pass.
    • After passing a member may share another reason.
    • After all members pass around the circle, this phase of the discernment is concluded.
  • The person making the decision then initiates a summary round. Starting with the discernment leader each member names their response to the question: “Yes, I think you should.” or “No, I think you shouldn’t.” You may add a reason for your decision. You may not respond to other’s reasons.
  • The facilitator then invites the discerner to reflect on what they heard, and what was helpful to them. 

Chapter Change: Closing a Chapter and Opening Another

Before you begin, create a safe, quiet space for discernment. Make sure you have: a flipchart, markers, post it notes, pens. [Notes for facilitators are listed inside brackets.] Text in regular type can be used by the facilitator as a script.

You’re leaving a chapter of life at _____ and a new chapter is about to begin.

[The facilitator encourages the participant(s) to name changes.]

Transitions can feel difficult or disruptive
Because of that we want to take time to

    • honor where you’ve been,
    • think about what can be carried forward, and
    • try and articulate how this chapter and the next are a little different

So, when did it feel like things really started changing? Was it spring and early summer? Or even the time _________?

I want to choose a time period during which we will reflect on as the most recent chapter, and then we’ll think together about the coming 5-6 months.

What did this chapter involve for you? Let’s paint a picture of what this time was like for you.  Let’s draw on gut-level reflections (like getting to the essence of something) as well as the concrete stuff- what you did or things that happened.

    • What were some central events?
    • What were some key dynamics?
    • What were some great things?
    • What inspired you about what was happening at ____?
    • What were you proud of from this period?
    • Do you have a short story or two to tell before we write a bit about it?

Write phrases, or sentence about this period or even just words on the ______ post-it in front of you, and post it on the wall. I’m going to write the questions I just asked you on the board, but you don’t have to stick 100% to these questions.

[As participants write, facilitator writes the questions on the board, then holds a gracious pause while participants write and post.]

Let’s take a minute and read each other’s post-its, – feel free to cluster them and move them around if you see themes. Share and reflect verbally by looking at the wall & building on each other’s work.

[Facilitator stands by the posted comments and asks “ANYTHING ELSE?” periodically and when all are posted…]

    • What were the challenges?
    • Hard or painful or maybe sad?
    • What needs to be grieved about the way things were?
    • What will you miss?

[As they are writing, write questions on the board, then write on the flip chart paper “What do we want to carry forward?”]

Final questions:

    • What did we learn about ourselves in this chapter?
    • What do we want to carry forward from this chapter?

[Facilitator writes this on flip chart paper or whiteboard.]

[The facilitator encourages further reflection saying:]

So, now that we’ve described this chapter and reflected on it a bit:

    • What was the big theme for this chapter?
    • What should the title of this chapter be?

[Facilitator writes the participant(s)’s title on the top of the page or on a separate colored piece of paper to be attached with tape.]

OK, so this chapter is closing, and we can be grateful for what has been. Now we’re heading to a new chapter.

[Facilitator names the new chapter identified by the participants: New 5 year vision, new staff model, new vestry, new youth programming, new ____.]

What else is new? Let’s use the _____ post-its now.

    • What will this chapter be about?
    • What do we hope for?
    • What are we excited about?
    • What do we want to be proud of?

[Participants write responses on post-it’s and add to the sheets. Participants share, standing around. The facilitator asks “ANYTHING ELSE?” When all have shared…]

    • What are we worried about?
    • What might be missing as we move forward?
    • What do we want to be especially thoughtful or careful about as we begin this chapter?

[Participants write responses on post-it’s and add to the sheets. Participants share-verbally building on each other’s work, standing around. The facilitator asks “ANYTHING ELSE?” When all
have shared…]

So, now that we’ve described this chapter and reflected on it a bit:

    • What was the big theme for this chapter?
    • What should the title of this chapter be?

[Facilitator writes the participant(s)’s title on the top of the page or on a separate colored piece of paper to be attached with tape.]

Is there anything we want to remember to ask ourselves in November? January?

Is there any structural or system change that is occurring to you that we need to put in place to ensure success?

OK, we will hold what we learned from opening and closing chapters as we  continue our work together today.

Discernment Resources

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