Sunday morning before getting up and ready for the day I finished reading our current book club selection, Only the Dead by Norwegian author Vidar Sundstol. I has happy to finish the book, for it had not been particularly satisfying, especially since it is the second part of a trilogy, and there are many questions yet to be answered. We will discuss this book and the first in the series, The Land of Dreams, at our next gathering. As always, I look forward to being with our book group because I know I will understand and probably appreciate more about the books than I currently do. Those lively discussions broaden my perspective and encourage me to read more carefully and critically, and that increases my reading pleasure.
As I finished the last page of the book that morning, I realized I didn't know what I was going to read next. That is not normal for me and was a bit unsettling. True, I am in the midst of reading other books, but they fulfill other functions. I am reading a couple books as part of my meditation time and a book while I am on the exercycle and a book about writing as part of my writing routine, and I am reading Azar Nafisi's The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books on a here and there basis, but what novel will I pick up next? What book will I read when I put my feet up on the ottoman in the room we call the snuggery and what book will I carry with me to bed to read before lights out? What book will I eagerly turn to when I need a break from the day's list?
I recently read two engrossing books, The Paying Guests by Sarah Walters and Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, and sometimes after such absorption, it is hard to make a transition into the next book. Of course, it is not as if I didn't have choices in front of me. I have piles of books waiting to be read and a long list of books on my iPhone I want to read. Just the other day I requested a few titles from the library, but there are other people ahead of me in the queue for each title. I didn't have them in my hands.
What to do? First, I gathered a stack of possible books and sat with each one. I read the back cover and the inside flap and I read the first page or two or three. Yes, there were good possibilities, but nothing grabbed me solidly. It was time for a step back. A deep breath. I entered a time of discernment.
Now I know choosing the next book to read is not on the same level as making decisions about when or where to retire and what to do when retirement is a reality. This is not in the category of life-changing decisions we made earlier in our lives--whether or not to have children, for example, or which career path to follow, but more and more I realize that even the small decisions in my life offer opportunities to listen, to pay attention, to receive guidance from the movement of Spirit.
I have been reading about discernment for a writing project, making me aware of how the process of discernment lives in my life. The word "discernment" comes from the Latin word discernerer: dis meaning "to separate" and cerenere, "to sift." On a minor level that's what we do when we choose the next book to read, but when the decision has greater import, such as whether or not to say yes to a volunteer opportunity or to put your house on the market and downsize into a condo, the process of discernment has more relevance.
As part of my research about discernment I read an article called "Seek Your Calling and Your Calling Will Seek You: Exploring Discernment as a Way of Life (Presence, An International Journal of Spiritual Direction Volume 18, no. 1, March, 2012) in which Monika Ellis, OSD, says one can develop a skill set for discernment by creating space to be with oneself, making time to center and connect to our inner depths, and being quiet in order to listen. When one does that,
Discernment eventually becomes a way of living, a way
of walking with one's heart, ears and eyes wide open, all
in readiness for receiving God… p. 41
As I intentionally develop the skills and context for discernment, I hope I will become more aware of what is going on inside, and how to uncover what to accept and when to create change. How to move forward and what to release. JaneVennard http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/teachers/teachers.php?id=307 in her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul says,
I used to think that discernment was problem solving
with a spiritual dimension. I thought we were simply
to include God in the process of rational decision
making. We might consult others and gather as much
information as possible and then pray for clarity. Or we
could list everything in favor of one possibility, list
everything against it, and then pray for guidance. I
have discovered that discernment is much more than
learning to make wise decisions.
The practice of discernment is the willingness to
listen deeply, engaging the body, mind, and feelings
to help us pay attention to the possibilities and choices
before us. It is more about being receptive than about
taking action. Spiritual writer Wendy Wright imagines
discernment as the movement of the sunflower turning
to the sun… or like being grasped in the spirit's arms
and led in the rhythms of an unknown dance. p.132
Perhaps discernment is another word for mindfulness. I don't know, but it seems to me that when I attend to the process of discernment, I move closer to the person I was created to be. May it be so.
When have you invited the process of discernment into your life? Are you making room in your life for quiet, for time and space to be alone and connect with yourself? What are the fruits of doing that for you? Are you considering a decision, a potential change, or call in your life? If so, how are you approaching it and what spiritual practices are you using to lighten and enlighten you? I would love to know.
Oh, and by the way, Sunday afternoon my husband and I spent time at Birchbark Books, http://birchbarkbooks.com a wonderful independent bookstore in Minneapolis owned by the acclaimed author Louise Erdrich, and I spotted a book I had purchased a month or so ago, but had not read yet. In that moment The Children Act by Ian McEwan moved to the top of the pile, a most worthy selection. Needless to say, we didn't leave the store without additional books for our existing piles. Happy reading!