December 15, 2017

Hearing a deeper sound

Isle of Skye. Photo by Hugh Mothersole

I am working on a new project about spiritual discernment and one of the books I’m reading is the third book in a trilogy by Henri Nouwen, compiled and edited from original materials found in the Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives at the University of Toronto.

I thought this passage from one of the introductory chapters was worthy of our consideration and discussion today.

For Henri Nouwen, spiritual discernment is hearing a deeper sound beneath the noise of ordinary life and seeing through appearances to the interconnectedness of all things, to gain a vision of how things hang together (theory physike) in our lives and in the world. Biblically, discernment is spiritual understanding and experiential knowledge, acquired through disciplined spiritual practice, of how God is active in our lives, which leads to a life “worthy of our calling” (Col. 1:9). It is a spiritual gift and practice that “ascertains and affirms the unique way God’s love and direction are manifested in our lives, so that we can know God’s will and fulfill our calling and mission within the mysterious interworkings of God’s love.”

But, as all who attempt to live the questions and follow the movements of the Spirit know, discernment is not a step-by-step program or a systematic pattern. Rather, it is a regular discipline of listening to the still, small voice beneath the rush of the whirlwind, a prayerful practice of reading the subtle signs in daily life. Discernment is not once-and-for-all decision making at critical points in one’s life (Should I take this job? Whom should I marry? Where should I live and work?), but a lifelong commitment to “remember God” (memoria Dei), know who you are, and pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying today.

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Photo by Hugh Mothersole at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. “strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”.
    Discernment is a practiced spiritual skill according to scripture. That means that there will be hits and misses. It’s not a spontaneous gift but something that is aquired through exercise over a long period of time. Young and dumb are disqualifying features. Some speculation on my part here – I don’t think we will necessarily use language in the afterlife or it will be minimal as intention is fully discerned. Jesus knew the intentions of people’s hearts and needed no one to tell him. Complete revelation of intention drastically minimizes the necessity for language. That in large part is the beauty of silent contemplation in the presence of God. What really needs to be said? Anyway, it seems to be about sticking to the exercise plan and once we pass over to live in the freedom of expanded vision. A great widening as a result of our earthly toil. Blossoming if you will.

    • “strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”.

      My problem with the strong meat concept is how that is defined. In my experience, it often means esoteric gnostic nonsense, looking for something hidden and deeper in meaning in between the made up chapter and verse numbers. If we had Paul’s grocery list and bacon was listed, we’d have whole books devoted to Paul’s BLT recipes or something.

      I’ve never heard ‘strong meat’ used in any other context than a gnostic one.

      What’s truly ‘strong meat’? I imagine it’s something as simple as “love God and love others”. Not how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or what the third heaven is all about.

      • Don’t mistake my speculation about communication in heaven with the beefsteak of discerning good and evil. Two completely different things but only related by the thread of discernment. My speculation about Heaven is simply that after having lived a life that involved having our senses trained we will bring that training with us into a more expansive place. That seems like a pretty fair assumption from my point of view but that’s not the point of the post at all. I think the point of the post is whether or not we are able to be “grown-up” In Him in all things or whether we spend our entire life in the state of dependence on our teachers and our notepads. Without exercising our gift of discernment we relinquish our freedom and rely on outside voices to lead us. I sense the straps being ratcheted down whenever the subject of discerning the spirit comes up. Fair enough. It is a potential rabbit hole into insanity and or heresy. That’s why it is strong meat. There is a distinct and undeniable possibility of choking on it.

        • Nice thoughts Chris……..whether they be totally true or not. Friday I met a carpenter who was demeaning to my son because he looks very young at 31 and still gets carded and if he shaves 15 at best ….Lucky him…. The carpenter met me Friday I’m 300 now at 6 foot 2. The gym only kept my weight under control. Haven’t been there in 2. Going back soon I hope. This carpenter drove by us on the way in. I said to my boy let me guess he’s the carpenter. He said yes and I said say no more because you could see it in his eyes. He came back unfortunately because our plan was to smile and say we would handle anything that would come up.

          We needed a recess floor for ADA requirements for handicap and he had told my boy can’t be done. Unfortunately the first words from my mouth is bet I can recess the floor. I didn’t notice but I know I can and I am not a carpenter. I guess he should stop drinking beer all day on the job…….Discernment…. Like I said I didn’t notice. My boy said later that evening you put him right in his place….. I said I did????
          Guess I don’t get it. Can’t be done is only said when someone is not wanting to. My son has super qualities at reading people way beyond me. Dreams that come true. Warnings and such and usually diffuses things before they com up because he sees things I can’t . some have natural gifts and some have to work really hard to just hit the first step. Did you see my arm raise.

          Stuart I have always hated milk and meat. Sometimes meat is much worse. Sometimes it is time to put milk down. No one has a right to tell. Always cringe when a biker friend of mine says iron sharpens iron. So does a damn stone. Process………I’m working through stuff that would make any normal thinking Christian cringe. I don’t care…….. I hate it all and yet love it all and all I have is Jesus and those things he put somewhere in me.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Hrmm. I get it, but I also have an almost allergic reaction to it.

    “seeing through appearances to the interconnectedness of all things” is the thickness of tissue paper away from magickal thinking and the fallacy Post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc [“after this, therefore because of this”]. Personal bias will fill in whatever gaps appear; spiritualizing bias is toxic.

    Religion, especially Evangelicalism, is rife with confidently seeing **easily falsifiable** ‘greater patterns’. It is terribly frustrating. “Spiritual Discernment” discerns its way right around data, because “god” [aka classism, racism, tribalism, …]. “Spiritual Discernment” is much easier than actually knowing – knowing is hard frustrating work.

    I’d prefer the spirituality of Humility; I do believe in the “interconnectedness of all things”, but I do not, or even cannot, see it. I rest much more easily in becoming OK with that truth; and I think it makes be a much better neighbor.

    • YES. Exactly.

      There is no deeper gnostic kabbala message there. We read it into it ourselves.

    • “I’d prefer the spirituality of Humility; I do believe in the “interconnectedness of all things”, but I do not, or even cannot, see it.”

      perhaps the two are not so far apart ? 🙂

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Nope, I believe – based on my experience – they are irreconcilably light years apart. Either you see it, or you don’t, and the great majority of those who are confident that they see it are clearly demonstrably wrong. There is no way to poetically wave their wrongness away.

        To be completely honest I feel much of this is a way to closet and wave-away mental illness; something American culture seems willing to go to any length to do. Spend some tables tabling in a public square… Whew… The things you will hear, and not all from the people you expect to hear it from.

  3. senecagriggs says:

    Comment deleted. Off topic. Seneca, I’ll post the article later on the IM Bulletin Board.

  4. Burro [Mule] says:

    +Lesslie Newbigin nailed it:

    …it is part of the fallen human nature…to desire always criteria of judgement which can be used without making too heavy demands upon the delicate faculty of spiritual discernment; clear-cut rules by which we may hope to be saved from making mistakes. Must we not say that it is part of the deep sickness of our culture that ever since Descartes, we have been seduced by the idea of a kind of knowledge which could not be doubted, in which we would be absolutely secure from personal risk?

    And has not this seduction taken two forms which, even if they disclaim all relationship with each other, are really twin brothers? One is biblical fundamentalism which supposes that adherence to the text of the Bible frees me from the risk of error and therefore gives me a security which does not depend on my own discernment of the truth. The other is a type of scientism which supposes that science is simply a transcript of reality, of the “facts” which simply have to be accepted and call for no personal decision on my part, a kind of knowledge which is “objective” and free from all the bias of subjectivity.

  5. A helpful psychological hint on separating the voices in our heads is this: the primary voices rattling around inside our brain are the voices of our ego and our super ego. The ego is the number one voice that we speak to ourselves in and who we think of as ourselves. The super ego is the voice of our taskmasters. It is our mother or father or Pastor, our teachers. It is what Scripture calls our tutors. It has a critical place in our formation but at a certain point we must grab it by the ears and sit it in its proper place. It is most certainly not the still small voice of God but it is the one most mistaken for It. It is full of religiosity and righteous talk but has no creative energy. It is a finger waver and a finger pointer. It modifies or negates. My experience has been that that “still, small voice” is always stiller and smaller yet than I initially thought. I don’t typically find specific direction there but more likely peace and resoluteness with a decision I myself have made. In fact it is Logos without logos. There are no hard and fast rules but there is a certain tenor and familiarity.

    • well-said, Chris S, this:

      “The ego is the number one voice that we speak to ourselves in and who we think of as ourselves. The super ego is the voice of our taskmasters. It is our mother or father or Pastor, our teachers. It is what Scripture calls our tutors. It has a critical place in our formation but at a certain point we must grab it by the ears and sit it in its proper place. It is most certainly not the still small voice of God but it is the one most mistaken for It. It is full of religiosity and righteous talk but has no creative energy. It is a finger waver and a finger pointer. It modifies or negates. My experience has been that that “still, small voice” is always stiller and smaller yet than I initially thought. I don’t typically find specific direction there but more likely peace and resoluteness with a decision I myself have made. In fact it is Logos without logos. There are no hard and fast rules but there is a certain tenor and familiarity.”

      I have experience with the ‘peace’ you speak of, following intense grief and remaining with me for years . . . . no words needed . . . . nor are there any words that can explain this, no

    • In one of the sequels to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, there exists a religious group characterized by their ability to hear the voice of God through their actions, specifically by tracing lines on the floor. At the end of the book, it’s revealed that the voice of God was nothing more than the leader’s OCD, and the ‘godspeak’ and voices happening were all symptoms of their OCD. I prob butchered that explanation, but I thought it was interesting.

      The author is a devout Mormon, I’m not sure how that plays into things. I can attest that a lot of my deep prayers have an OCD element to them, endlessly going over and antagonizing over things. I learned quickly to never pray before bedtime, because my mind would be endlessly engaged all night long, and ‘amen’ never brought peace.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I remember that sequel — “Xenocide”?
        Sequel to “Speaker for the Dead”, which changes your perception of the Last Judgment away from the Jack Chick version.

        OSC is also human, and that was probably what played into things.

      • So that’s a case of people choking on their steak. Hearing the voice of God when it isn’t there. That is clearly the danger we face. So is that a reason to retreat or a reason to be that much more disciplined in the practice? We are talking about ‘separating bone from marrow’ and that’s why it is ‘strong meat’. It’s difficult. There are absolutely pitfalls and the bridge is not suspended by a rule structure which would just make everything so much easier. Complicating things is the fact that hearing the voice of God and acting on it can in fact appear to be complete insanity to those around us as is attested to in both the Old and New Testaments. Even more then, we need to be sober, deliberate and above all humble. Pride is the derailer. I also have seen the fundamentalist game of cloaking selfishness, self aggrandizement and power-mongering under the robe of ‘discernment’. “The Lord just told me…” etc. Because of that we have all the more reason to be engaged in the difficult work and the contemplative spirit.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Can’t remember where I first heard this one:

          The phrase “The LORD Just Told Me” should be spoken with much the same caution as “Please Castrate Me”.

      • Stuart I’m not trying to be smart here. Amen to me was I speak the truth. Did I get it wrong. Try at night Shabbot( sorry said I spelled it wrong) Shalom ….peace and rest. I know of what you speak thought done it too many times. I try just to keep night time prayers to please forgive me for my shortcomings this day and I thank you for all the help and support you gave me which I saw and didn’t see. Bless those who push all my buttons wrong and thank you for those who are kind Amen

  6. well, if ‘all things’ were created out of love by the God Who Is Love, then we have an answer to that ‘connection’ maybe? We can search the very nature of God to see glimpses of the ‘inter-connection’ of all of Creation and yes, it works the other way also . . . . . we are made in His image and , by our own natures, ‘connected’ to His.
    So we search for meaning in all things, until we come to Him, (paraphrasing Augustine here)

    There seems a universal longing in the heart of man which resounds in joyful recognition of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, that visible by-product of God’s grace in us that witnesses to God’s goodness and is seen in our very responses to one another . . . . St. John speaks of this transcendentally human witness to God’s image in us:
    ” God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

    ” . . . . You love all things that exist . . . .
    . . . . O Lord, You who love the living ”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azpSpmIPvvY

  7. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    “Interconnectedness of all things”. A favourite phrase of mine – but I got it from Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently. 🙂

    It is of course a result of Spinoza’s influence. And indirectly all the way back to Lucretius and Democritus. While there is a lot of spirtualizing here, one has to admit that interconnectedness logicaly precludes free will, and in the end logically leads to a materialistic universe, the spirituizing or even mythologizing notwithstanding.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    That photo on top — a landscape you’d expect to see in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones…

  9. When I see the phrase ‘interconnectedness of all things’, I think about Wordsworth and how when I studied British Lit out of an ENORMOUS text at university, I came across this in the middle of his ‘Tintern Abbey’ and how I ‘recognized’ it even though I had never read it before.

    “And I have felt
    A presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things. “

  10. Mike thanks for your view. Nouwen couldn’t break through my thick head or I just didn’t get him. A friend gave me a book of his and really I made a week of it and just threw it. Not a cut on him just where I was. It is simpler to me then what we would have it to be. Maybe the simplicity of the long and drawn out will become more apparent someday . Thanks for letting me comment and thanks everyone here.

    • w, your voice is good for us. I look forward to meeting you, if not here then for sure in the hereafter, and I will give you a huge hug.

      Scratch those kitties for me. I’m “between cats” right now. (We have a dog, and she’s great, but I miss my kitty.)

      Dana

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        My 15 year old Beagle died a year ago Thursday.

        Wa-a-a-a-h!

        I never knew I could miss a beast so much. I want a Shiba Inu now, but I’d settle for just a friendly, floppy mutt.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Sorry to hear that. I’ve had a couple of those, it sucks.

        • Love between humans and pets is a tangible echo of Paradise. Of course we grieve, and remember.

          Mutts are the best. Husband had thoughts about being a dog breeder, so early in our marriage we had a purebred Springer Spaniel, and she was terrific, esp when the kids came along… but really, mutts are the best.

          Glad to hear the not-domesticated wolf has been beaten back, Mule.

          D.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Just got two new kittens (siblings) as the old cat appears to have retired from her duties.

        They are a hoot.

    • love your comments, W

  11. CM, hats off for being willing to explore this area of spirituality with an objective attitude and an open mind. ChrisS, hats off for hanging in there with measured responses to some very unmeasured and tunnel-visioned rejections of what I regard as the central message of Jesus to those with ears to hear. I can’t do it anymore. It is one thing to say that one may not feel called to follow this path to Unity with God but bless those who do. Quite another to imply that all those seeking the Presence of God Most High are ignorant or deluded or corrupt and perhaps deranged. At some point trying to get thru to those with an intellectual and materialistic mindset and an adversarial attitude becomes masochistic. I do see signs of change and progress and growth here. Any little bit is to the good, but the world is changing so fast right now that it is all I can do to keep up as best I can. No time to be a laggard. Bless all folks of good will here, and may we all find the way to greater spiritual discernment.