Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4.2 - Discernment

'He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good."

Isaiah 7:15

This is a complicated passage about the restoration of Israel, the place of anticipated peace where the young child shall be able to eat curds and honey.

But what struck me as I read and studied it a few weeks ago, when I was trying to make some preliminary decisions about preaching for this Sunday, was the emphasis on discernment. On the capacity for discernment as a mark of growing maturity.

I have often, in Ignatian and Jesuit contexts, heard spirituality described as being all about discernment. How we choose, what we choose, for how long a choice remains viable.

In times of intense grief, that capacity becomes clouded and broken. How could it be otherwise, when we can't remember anything for longer than five seconds? Was I going to go to the grocery? Did I decide to go back to seminary? I can't remember, I can't choose, I don't know.

It seems to be not only a mark of growing maturity, but also a sign of recovery when we can, indeed, begin to discern next steps with increased clarity.

In the meantime, agere contra ~ another term, to act against, which I learned from Jesuits. They use it as Ignatius did, meaning to act against desolation. To act against all that causes turmoil, disturbance, and agitation. It means go to the grocery whether you feel like it or not; to go back to seminary even when it seems pointless to do so.

It seems to work ~ agere contra ~ it seems to enable the creation of a solid foundation, even in a time of emptiness, that makes it possible to recover, eventually, the capacity for discernment, for spiritual growth and attentiveness.

I suppose the truth of that potential may be realized from the irony that while I have no recollection of my spiritual director talking to me about agere contra in the early months after Josh died, though he tells me that he did, I am now able to suggest it as a way of moving forward through the dark. It seems to have worked well for me, and for every bereaved mother I know, regardless of whether or not we had any conscious sense of what we were doing.

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