Saturday, March 05, 2005

Listening for a Theme

Has your life ever had a theme?

I don't mean a theme song. Many of us have a soundtrack which accompanies us through our day. I don't mean that. I mean a theme. A persistent word or phrase that pursues you for days, weeks, may be even months at a time.

Sometimes I do.

Often, this gets worked out in my poetry. In highschool, as I've mentioned before, a great deal of my poetry was soaked in "blood". The summer prior to highschool, I had walked in on someone after they had attempted to slit their wrists, so all that blood made sense.

In college, I got stuck on crows. Then Saturn.

You get the picture.

This time the theme began the first weekend of February. I was reading a synopsis of the Windsor Report (I've written more about the report under "Day One", here). The Windsor Report is, roughly, divided into three sections: where we've been, how we've come to this crisis, and how do we heal following the crisis. In the "where we've been section", the report seems to praise prophetic action. In the second section, the report seems to chide the US Episcopal Church for taking prophetic action too soon. I wondered, as I read this synopsis, what was the means by which one discerns the proper time for a prophetic action.

I've already talked about the meeting I attended which addressed the Windsor Report (as linked above). That meeting was held on February 12. The group did not address the question of discernment.

The next day was Sunday, and I was facilitating a discussion of The Brothers Karamazov. One of the questions I asked was "What is a
holy fool?" Many characters (notably the father) claim to be a holy fool; only one or two deserve the title. How does one tell the difference?


Around this same time, I started watching Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection. The main character is patterned on Joan of Arc, only the voices she hears seem to come from inanimate objects, and their directions are generally ambiguous at best. One of the questions this tv series directly addressed was whether "Jaye" was insane. I do hope to write more about Wonderfalls; but for the moment, let's rest with the question of how one tells whether the small voice one hears is divine, ego, or something else.


Incidentally, a couple of poems came out of this, both having to do with "the voice". Perhaps you remember them: "The Voice in the Dark" and "Loving the Voice".

That brings me to the conference on Adult Christian Education which I attended last week. That theme came up again as I attended various learning opportunities, keynote addresses, and visited with different people throughout the conference.


It was beginning to feel a little like a neon sign that was flashing just before my eyes:
*Discernment* *Discernment* *Discernment*

In the past when I've had a theme repeating in this manner, I've felt a little anxious. Like Jaye in the Wonderfalls series, I have occasionally questioned my sanity. After talking to a few others over the past few years, I've learned that I'm not alone. So this time, I did not feel anxious; I was just curious. Why this word, "Discernment", and why now?

Chaplains were available at the conference I attended, and I decided to take advantage of that opportunity. I met with Rev. Yeager after lunch on Saturday.

We had a good, long talk. In my sleep-deprived state, it seemed to go on forever. In retrospect, it seems like feelings and impressions from the past three years were just flowing out of me. I was moved to tears more than once as I shared.

The chaplain asked about my day job. She commiserated with the stress I experience due to a "peaks and valleys" work load, along with having a department head with a mercurial personality.

I don't remember how the question of ministry came up, but it did. I think Rev. Yeager brought it up first; but if I did, she immediately nodded her head. You'd think I'd remember this detail better, but — as I keep pointing out — I was sleep-deprived, and it was a week ago.

In the Episcopal Church the notion of "call" is two-sided: the person senses a call, and the community senses that the person has a call. There's a technical term for this.

You guessed it: discernment.

At the fitting time, the person works with their rector (in my case, the Dean of the Cathedral) to form a Discernment Committee. This is a group of people who work with the seeker to discern what their call is, and whether that call is to be manifested in the ordained ministry.

Does the community of St Paul's perceive that I have a call? Well, I was asked to attend this conference, which fact recognizes my gifts as educator. And I was elected to the vestry (i.e., "church council"), which recognizes my potential as a leader.

Rev. Yeager had three words of advice:
  1. See a Spiritual Director, or Spiritual Friend.
    Considering my tendency to be a lone wolf, and to try to work through these things on my own, this seems especially good advice.
  2. Ask the Dean about the nuts and bolts of the Cathedral's Discernment process.
  3. Contiue listening.
    She especially commended the practice of Contemplative Prayer, and recommended Thomas Keating's book Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel.
So far, I've asked a respected elder to be my Spiritual Friend, and I've made an appointment with one of the Cathedral's Canons (a priest other than the Dean). Oddly, I still need to work on that prayer thing.

The word "discernment" still come up in odd places, but it doesn't seem to be flashing at me anymore. Now I can smile at it; it's become an interesting friend.

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