Archive for January 2012
At our lively (and delicious) dinner gathering last Wednesday, we talked and laughed and shared about many things. (Read more on page 6.) However, one of the areas we spent the most time on was the topic of “Discernment.” What is the difference between decision-making and discernment? How can intentional discernment guide and strengthen the faith of individuals and communities? As a continuation of that discussion, in the next couple of weeks I will be offeringexamples of different discernment practices used by Christians from various traditions. Today, however, I turn to one of my former teachers, Dr. Elizabeth Liebert of San Francisco Theological Seminary, for thoughts on what the practice of discernment actually means.
Discernment is a gift of God and simultaneously a habit of faith; although all is grace, there is also, in the mysterious economy of God’s plan, a crucial role for human action. We choose to notice where God is at work, choose to believe in a larger plan that we can grasp at the moment, choose to hope in the goodness of the future promised by God, choose to align ourselves with God’s preferred future as it becomes clear to us.
We grow in this gift of discernment through fidelity to a discerning lifestyle, which demands trust, includes failure, and matures through self-reflection and prayer…
…in the Christian tradition, discernment is always set within the larger community of faith…Cut off from its communitarian roots, the power and veracity of Christian discernment can too easily stray into viewing our own idiosyncratic interpretation, and even downright evil, as if it somehow be God’s will.
…Discernment, then, is a process that enables us to join in partnership with God already present and acting… It is not magic, and does not yield complete certainty, but does provide a graced way to sort through the ambiguities embedded in our personal and corporate lives and in the signs of the times.
(from Discernment for our Times:
A Practice with Postmodern Implications,
Studies in Spirituality, Vol. 18, (2008)
As we embrace our next steps in becoming a Giving and Discerning Church, we are committed to taking both equally seriously: we want to give our time and resources from a spiritually healthy place, and we want to grow in faith as we “join in partnership with God already present and acting.”
Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live. (Isaiah 55:3)
May it be so.
Monday was the federal holiday celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe the church should observe his martyrdom day because that is when the church always has remembered the saints. October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis not because that was the day he was born, but because that was the day he died.
An old liturgical curmudgeon once explained to me that, “Our birth is really between us and our mama, but our death is between us and God.” I’m not sure about that logic, but, in respect of the tradition, I think the church should honor Martin as one of our saints. Who he was and what he did were courageous and consistent expressions of his faith.
In honor of Dr. King, my good friend Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite wrote in the Washington Post:
As we celebrate the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, this is a good time to draw attention to the fact that no one in the history of reading the Bible from the streets was better than Dr. King. The one fundamental thing Dr. King understood is that you actually had to be on the street to read the Bible from the street.
Streets, banks, parks, and bridges have been occupied by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Recently, I’ve started using the Twitter hashtag “#OccupytheBible” each day when I tweet a different verse from scriptural teaching on justice for the poor and the way riches are a stumbling block to discipleship. Every day, I gain more Twitter followers who want to read more of the Bible than Tim Tebow’s favorite verse: John 3:16. It’s a great verse, and Tebow’s emphasis on it has inspired a lot of Google searches for the text. However, the Bible says a lot more than that one verse, and much of what it says is about economic justice.
The Bible is one of the most important places Christians who are concerned about social justice need to occupy. To “Occupy the Bible” simply means reading the Bible from the perspective of those who are driven to the streets to protest rising economic and social inequality in our own time, just as those who listened to Jesus on the streets did in the first century.
<Rev. Piazza can be found on Twitter as RevMikePiazza.>
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Every morning before she opened her eyes, she silently prayed the same words: “This is the day the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” She learned those words as a little girl, and somehow as she aged, they became her greeting for the day. She said them on beautiful mornings, when her body felt young and strong. She said them on mornings when she could hardly get out of bed, she felt so weighed down by worry or grief. She recited them on the morning of her mother’s funeral, and she prayed them on the day of her daughter’s wedding. This same daughter shared with me that her mother continued this spiritual practice until the last day of her life. Greeting the day, no matter what it brought.
What words come into your consciousness when you wake up? Most of us have varied thoughts, depending on how well we slept, how busy our day ahead looks, or how worried we are about something in our lives. What would happen if we chose to greet our days with a prayer or a statement of hope? Before we did anything at all, we could begin to shape the way we relate to our lives and our faith.
Before you go to sleep tonight, I invite you to think about how you would like to greet tomorrow. What words will open your day for you? “Thank you, God” or “Help me, God” work just fine. Perhaps a phrase from scripture, such as “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Or a phrase from a prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Let your heart settle on words that reflect your hope or your intentions for your life, and try saying them every morning before you get up. Let your words “pray you into your day.” Try it for a period of time – a week or two, and see what happens. It’s a simple way to connect our deepest selves to our daily lives, and to open our hearts to God’s presence, this day and every day.
Thanks be to God.
The best description I have ever heard of Spiritual Direction, a monthly process of prayer and reflection with a trained listener, is the one above: Spiritual Direction is a long, loving look at the real. No fancy techniques or flashy practices, just a time set aside to look compassionately at the reality of one’s life and one’s relationship with the sacred.
This past Sunday, as we gathered again for worship and our First Sunday Supper, we had the opportunity to share in an exercise often used by people who want to engage in that process. Called the Examen, it involves taking a regular look at our days as a way of deepening our relationship with God. At the end of each day, we ask ourselves the following two questions:
1. What today made me feel closer to God?
2. What today made me feel most separated?
These questions can be rephrased as: What made me feel the most free?/ the most oppressed? or When was I my best self?/ my least authentic self? However we phrase the questions, the regular practice of asking them often leads us to see our lives in a deeper, fuller way: a long, loving look at the real.
On Sunday, we used this exercise as a way of looking at the past year and preparing for the coming year. We prayerfully and silently reflected on the events of our lives throughout 2011 and, without judgment, attempted to see ourselves and our paths more clearly as we move into 2012.
I invite you try the Examen this year. It is a way of reading the wisdom of your own life and allowing God to speak to you in the midst of it. You can do it daily, as St. Ignatius suggested, or you can do in periodically, at times of special significance, like New Years or anniversaries. However you do it, I think it can serve as a reminder that we each have what we need, right now, to lead full and loving lives. We don’t need more stuff, we don’t even need more time. All we need is to trust the voice of Truth that resonates within us, inviting us to take God’s hand and simply take the next step.
May you notice the blessings that come to you in 2012!
Here are a few of the quotes we used on Sunday to help begin the process of Examen:
We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws but for potential.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The ultimate goal is to transform the world into the kind of world God had in mind when He created it.
In ‘To Life!’
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or last time. Then your time on Earth will be filled with joy.
In ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’
The world is new to us each morning - that is the Lord’s gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day.
Baal Shem Tov
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