09 March 2019

On Discernment of Active Ministry

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I am interested in how you discerned or do discern doing something like the Scripture you are doing at your parish. I want to emphasize I believe it is fine that you do this; I am not criticizing, but I wondered how you approached taking it on. How did you know it was right for you? Were you unhappy with your eremitical life in some way? Also, do you think all hermits should do this (not Scripture, I mean, but doing something at their parish like this)? Did you need permission to do this? I was intrigued that you said you were loving it so I wonder too why you didn't do this sooner. Please just answer in terms of your discernment process if parts of my questions are too personal.]]

Wonderful questions, thank you! The possibility of doing this came up about three or four months ago. We had had someone doing Scripture for a number of years and he stopped about two years ago. I was unaware he had had to stop so the word I heard those months ago was my first sense of this. Even so it gave me time to seriously consider what I might do if I discerned it was something I was both able and was called to do. So, how did I discern this?

First, let me say that I am still engaged in discernment in this matter. After prayer I spoke with my director and then with my pastor to see if there were any immediate reservations or if the parish had already planned on asking someone else to take this on. I also determined that I could offer to do so for a certain time period while I discerned how this worked in my eremitical life. As a result of discussion with my director and pastor it seemed a good idea to commit to this for a year and, rather than do it week in and week out, plan a number of series with breaks between each one. This would allow continuing  discernment not only during the series but also in the time between them.

But the general "rule" of discernment was to pay attention to how this activity affected my life, first my own inner life, and then too my external life. After all, discernment is a process of listening to our hearts, to our deepest selves and to the God that dwells therein. So for instance, whether I am doing the class or preparing for it I am reading Scripture and commentators on Scripture; and what was true was that every time I opened the pages of the parables themselves or read those who had explored them I found myself getting excited, experiencing an energy and an intensification of my own centeredness, as well as experiencing those times of synchronicity that occur when we are right at the center where we ought to be.

Similarly, I noticed that prayer, relationships, personal work (direction) all flowed together with this work and I experienced that in the act of teaching/sharing Scripture I was also "revealing" the very nature of what eremitical life (being alone with God for the sake of others) makes me to be; I had the sense that perhaps people in the class were getting a glimpse of my heart and the way Scripture nourishes and inspires my life. In other words, I had an experience of being precisely the hermit I am called to be even (and perhaps especially) in the midst of such activity. It was a surprising and paradoxical experience of being more profoundly hermit in and because of this activity because God who calls me to eremitical solitude was clearly at work in it energizing me, loving me, and freeing me to love in this specific way as a natural expression and extension of my solitude in and of the hermitage.

I have always stressed that eremitical life is a unique form of life in community. What I have found thus far in doing this series was that certain kinds of communal activities can not only enhance but also reveal (make real in space and time) the deepest core of one's solitary call. Most of the time what I do and even who I am is hidden from the people in my parish. They catch glimpses at liturgy, parish functions, or an occasional coffee. But in this specific series (and while the series is not about this, of course) it may be that folks are seeing where I am most alive, most myself, and also truly solitary, namely in my engagement with God in prayer and in Scripture. This was really a revelation to me and it suggests that my discernment in this is sound.

Need for Permission?

In a sense I have to say, no I did not need permission to do this if you mean did I ask someone (bishop or delegate) for permission. Of course I needed my pastor's agreement to do it and I discussed the matter with my director. She was helpful in assisting me to listen to my deepest self, to the reasons the project was intriguing to me, and the ways it would change my life. We talked about shifts in energy levels, how this corresponded to the progress in the inner work we have been doing and what new demands on my health, horarium, etc this project would entail; we set up parameters which would allow me to step back from the project if it was not a way of appropriately honoring both my commitment to my eremitical life and to my parish family whom I am called to love in real and concrete ways. Finally we have discussed and evaluated my experience as the series has proceeded and noted its impact on everything else.  I think you can see that once all this is done "permission" is not precisely needed or something I requested. At the same time I can say I undertook this project with the prayers and blessing of my director/delegate.

Should All Hermits Do Something Like This?

No, I don't think all hermits will be called to do something like this nor would it be right for them. I think it happens on an individual basis and can only be embraced when the person is solid in their eremitical solitude and their sense of the uniquely communal nature of that solitude. Also, I think it is critical that the hermit have accepted that eremitical life may require giving up the use of every discrete gift and talent to witness to the fulfillment that comes in God alone. I could not have done this sooner, at least not in the past several years, but now circumstances are changing and that makes it an appropriate time to consider something like this ( this is one of those experiences of synchronicity I mentioned above). One must be able to undertake this as a hermit --- not in the sense of living a role or doing it because someone outside the hermitage says one should be doing this, but rather, it is a matter of being a hermit through and through and, again, working out what are appropriate natural expressions of that.

When this is true one may experience the freedom to do such a project. (Remember, Christian freedom is the power to be the person we are called to be, not merely by filling a role or being someone on whom a title has been bestowed but by being a Self in God and standing in the truth of that Selfhood.) In this project I am being true to my self-as-hermit and especially as a consecrated hermit with a specifically ecclesial vocation. And no, I could not have done this if I was unhappy in some way with my life as a hermit. This is another paradox. Unhappiness in my vocation would have prevented me from undertaking this project; it would have taken me away from solitude or an inner "quies" and the energy that comes from this. Rather, it is precisely my happiness in eremitical life that makes it possible to be true to myself in this way without diminishment but rather with an enrichment of eremitical solitude. I hope this is helpful. It was difficult to describe how things come together in discernment and I found it especially difficult to articulate the paradox of  contemplative solitude being fully revealed in a bit of active ministry. So again, I hope this is helpful.