#DecemberDiscernment — Sarah Jones

Discernment (Mark Nepo)  birding-hero

The trouble with the mind
is that it sees like a bird
but walks like a man.

And things at the surface
move fast, needing to be
gathered. While things
at center move slow,
needing to be

What I mean is
if you want to see the
many birds, you can
gather them in a cage
and wonder why
they won’t fly.

Or you can go to
the wetlands, birding
in silence before
the sun comes up.

It’s the same
with the things
we love or think.

We can frame them
in pretty cages or follow
them into the wild meadow
till they stun us with the
spread of their magnificent

“Discernment” is one of the watchwords of a seminary education. Whenever I’m speaking with seminary friends about life choices or options before us, we use it as a one word response—usually with a sympathetic sigh or laugh. #Discernment.

As much as we talk and joke about the practice of discernment in our lives, I always found it difficult. How do I do it? Do I just pray? Should I write a pro & con list? How many people should I ask for advice, and what kind of advice do I ask for? All of this uncertainty turned me off to the actual doing of discernment, procrastination that was exacerbated by the time constraints that my busy life placed on me. With school, internships, work, various board meetings, and other initiatives that I was a part of, I felt that I couldn’t make the time to intentionally discern. I had enough trouble making time in my life for self-care, so adding another activity that felt like “work” was not enticing. The irony is that discernment is self-care, a way to figure out what our priorities are (and what they should be), a way to hear that still, small voice that really does want the best for us in this world. I knew this, in my head, but that knowledge never made it past shallow thoughts that failed to motivate real action.

The idea for #DecemberDiscernment, a social media campaign that I’m leading for the McCormick extended community, came from a conversation I had with Rev. Wayne Meisel (Director of the Center for Faith and Service), who has more than just a few thoughts on the topic. Wayne recently created a Discernment Deck: a deck of cards each with questions to ponder as the user considers life decisions. An easy-to-use tool for reflection that can be used for just a couple of minutes or for a couple of hours, by myself or with others, deep but not intimidating. I wondered how we could bring the spirit of the Discernment Deck to our McCormick community, both near and far, because everyone needs a little more Discernment in their lives. December seemed like a great time for this work, so that our New Years’ resolutions could (hopefully) be more practical and meaningful.

Throughout December, we’ll be posting questions from the Discernment Deck on Facebook and Twitter; we invite you to respond, privately or publicly, and to “go birding” as the poem says—admiring and observing the movements of the Spirit in your life. We’ll also be publishing blog posts from many different people about discernment for individuals and communities: stories, practices, and philosophies. We hope you’ll join us and take some time this December to meet life where it is, to reflect and discern.