I found myself reacting this morning in a way that is so deeply familiar that it seemed both reasonable and justified. An irritation to an interaction over email.
It didn’t occur to me to question my response at all, until my sister did. We were casually chatting over lunch.
As soon as she pointed it out, I realised how blind I am. I do notice my reactions, and I do critique the extent of the reaction quite frequently. But it has never occurred to me to pay attention to the very flavour of the reaction itself.
In this particular instance – why does this particular sequence induce the response it does in me?
Today the answer was obvious as soon as the question was asked. I think though it is the start of a new layer of exploration. I look forward to seeing what I will learn.
I’ve been thinking about discernment a fair bit recently. In Christian terms this is often the term we use for seeking to do God’s will. This often means given a choice between x and not x then my task is to figure out what choice seems to be more in line with God’s will for me. In other words, what matters is what I choose. One path will lead me towards God and one path will lead me away from God.
Now, I think there are some choices like this. But I think the vast majority of choices that I try to actively discern are not in this category. When I think about the last major choice I made, I know that both choices were good choices, and both could equally have led into deeper relationship with God. What mattered was not the choice itself but the process of making the choice.
The lasting impact on my life is not the decision I made, but rather the way in which I made the decision. Engaging in that particular process revealed to me my attachments and fears. There were six clear steps where I could have chosen to lean into my fear or bow out of the process. Ultimately if I had bowed out of the process, my external life circumstances would look no different to what they look like now (my decision was to stay where I am). But I know that if I had bowed out of the process I would not be who I am today.
All of the steps, except for the last one, were about shifting the decision from a possibility to a reality. Every single step was profoundly challenging. I had to face into a significant fear – the same one in different guises. What actual choice I made on that sixth and final step would have significant impact on the external detail of my life, but the essence of who I am was far more impacted by the previous five steps.
The faithfulness to the process, which required that I attended to my own attachments and fears, has allowed me to cross an interior threshold. That would have happened regardless of the ultimate decision that was made. In other words what was significant was the process of discernment, not the choice that was ultimately made.
In this case there were multiple steps, and so the lesson is clear. But what if this is the case for the vast majority of the decisions we are trying to discern. What if the real invitation is to examine our fears and attachments? There is no doubt in my mind that the extent to which I can free myself of my fears and attachments is the extent which I am available to begin anything which might resemble the will of God.
I spent a good part of the last week in India. I was invited to give a talk at a chemistry conference. There is much to say about the experience, but for today just one thought.
We were given a ‘cultural event’ – some music and dancing from the region. Some of it was striking and quite moving. But what stays with me is the dance of these seven young girls.
As I watched them, there was no clear ‘leader’ of the group. Over the passage of the dance first one, then another, then another, took the lead. It wasn’t planned, it was just whoever happened to remember the steps at that particular point was the leader. The one who had been confident only seconds before lost her way and had to watch her companions.
They all made it through the dance because of their collective memory. Not one of them would have made it one their own.
It struck me, almost immediately, as a beautiful metaphor for our need for community. We all get momentarily distracted or preoccupied from time to time. If we are acting alone we lose our way. But if we are a part of a larger community they can carry us along in those moments. And just as some carry us during those times. We too take our turn at leading periodically.
I participate in several different dances – therefore there is not community but several. Nonetheless, I am left deeply grateful for those who dance alongside me.