Spiritual Discernment – A Suggested Guide

Spiritual Practice: Discerning a Choice

 

It’s all about Inquiry

Reflection, a key component of the spiritual practice of discernment, is all about asking yourself the right open-ended questions, in a simple, receptive way, and then creating an open space and time for deeper and more searching reflection. 

When you are facing into your lists of pro’s and con’s that seem equally significant, using the ancient tradition of the Ignatian Examen is a way to focus on a particular decision and seek personal clarity. 

The Examen is both prayer (asking) and meditation (listening), that allows you to take a reflective look at where you feel the most spiritually alive and where you feel the least; through this lens a deeper wisdom arises within you

Ask Simply:

For example, when you are trying to decide whether or not to apply for a job you saw advertised that had an intriguing profile, the simple question might be: “Do I apply for this intriguing job?” — an uncomplicated, simple and concrete question will be more helpful in your discernment. 

Or you are looking ahead to your activity in re tirement, you might ask: “Do I want to use the experience I have to volunteer in helping others?”

Remember and Reflect: 

First,take a moment to write this question in on your smartphone, journal, on a sticky note or an index card, in a safe place where you can write notes along with the question.

Second, spend a few moments in silence, inviting God to assist you as you enter into this practice of reflection and prayer.

Third, take note of the theme of the question. In the two examples of simple questions above, the theme would be “work I enjoy doing.”  Then put the question away, for now. 

Do an Examen with the theme: “work I enjoy doing”

First,choose at least 15 minutes of time for your practice of meditation and prayer, spiritual discernment takes its own time to emerge (thankfully, however, it is not like quick and debatable logic that comes out with those equivalent lists the mind alone can create!).

Second, sit in a comfortable chair and breathe quietly for a few minutes, paying attention to physical feeling of the breath coming in and going out from your body. Be still. Let go of thoughts and allow them to drift through your mind when they arise; this is not a time for ordinary problem solving, but a time in which to stay in a calm, listening prayer mode. 

Third, ask God to help you reflect upon these questions:

If you could relive any moment of joy and energy at work from your recent past, which onewould that be? 

  • What activity were you doing? Where were you?

  • How, in particular, did you feel in the moment? 

  • Who was with you? 

Write a note of what insight or understanding comes into your mind or heart as you breathe quietly and ask for God’s help with these questions.

Next:

If you could go back and change any onemoment at work that you regret, what would you want to do over? Bring it to mind and feel it. 

  • What action was involved and what about it do you dislike or regret?

  • Who was there with you?

  • At the time, did the experience drain you of energy, frustrate you, leave you feeling helpless or guilty or something else? 

Again, write a note of whatever comes to your mind or heart as insight or understanding as you breathe quietly and ask for God’s help with these questions.

Listen:

  • What insight about yourself do you notice from your remembered moment of joy and energy — what stands out to you now? Write a brief note to yourself.

  • Similarly, what insight about yourself do you notice from your remembered time of upset and disturbance of energy — what stands out to you now? Write a brief note to yourself.

  • Take some time for silence, asking God to offer you whatever you need in this decision: instruction, comfort, challenge or creativity related to these two moments.

Coming home – Returning to the Original Question:

Now, pick up the question you recorded in your phone/journal/index card at the beginning of this practice, look at it, and repeat it silently to yourself. 

Breathe quietly as you do this.

  • What did you sense as God’s guidance during the prayer and meditation with the Examen? 

Using our example, how does what you learned from praying with your high and low points at work offer you any direction on whether or not you want to apply for the intriguing job or volunteer your time? In what direction are you leaning?  

Do you feel any more clarity on an answer yet?

Like any exercise, the Examen offers the most discernment assistance when used regularly, so consider repeating this prayer daily until you reach some clarity. 

This practice can be used with any discernment or decision, only the question changes, but it must remain a simple question in order to reveal clarity.

Even if you have to go forward with the next step before you are truly clear, stay with the Examen practice along the way to help you receive guide you.

Most often, spiritual clarity comes as a sense of peace with your choice, a quiet yes.

Spiritual Practice is Making the Inquiry and Reflecting:

Reflection is a central component of the spiritual practice of discernment, asking the simple open-ended questions (simple, so that your mind doesn’t run off with you debating!). The more you use the Examen alongside key discernment questions, the more comfortable you get with deep and soul-searching inquiry.

Spiritual connection and discernment become a way of life when you continue to open yourself to how God’s spirit moves in and through your questions.

May the God of your understanding bless and keep you, and give you peace.

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