Wednesday 9 October 2013

Doing daily discernment


Discernment is the word Christians sometimes use to describe the process of spiritually evaluating and judging truth and goodness.

Discernment may be what leads someone to reject the secular hedonic worldview, to become a Christian (a Mere Christian - or not-denominationally-affiliated Christian), to choose which Christian church/ denomination to join, and perhaps even after that to discern when and where that church or denomination is going astray from the true and the good.

The big problem is that just at the point in history where discernment is more needed than ever before (due to the collapse of most Christan traditions and the proliferation of choices/ heresies/ temptations/ Faustian bargains); so discernment is also at its lowest ever average level...

My feeling is that discernment is "always" sufficient to get someone to Mere Christianity but that the problem of choosing a denomination, or where truth lies between denominations (or which is the most truth-full) is very difficult indeed; and may prove too difficult for most people to unravel with any strong sense of confidence or firmness of faith that they have reached the best possible conclusion.

It is at this point that so many modern Christians are stuck.

Rather than trying to force a swift choice in the face of such difficulties - a choice which is anyway very unlikely to be sufficiently solid as to be binding; I think we can, should, perhaps must, be engaged in a permanent activity of discernment - that is testing and validating by reference to one's innermost conviction.

We need to train-ourselves to be alert for signs of uneasiness, revulsion, disgust, despair etc. which may indicate that we are being led astray - and for the opposite feelings of deep joy, hope, love etc. which - over time - are the surest confirmation and guide to the fact that we are in harmony with reality.

I believe (it is my experience) that spiritual progress is possible, and palpable, in terms of the development of one's own discernment - and that such spiritual progress (or depth) is possible even when objectively-observable Christian life may appear to be 'stuck'. 



Ron said...

Re-training ourselves is necessary because we often employ rationalization in order to make our way peacefully through life in the moment. And then the moment is forgotten. Because these moments are forgotten, daily discernment would benefit from daily journalling not on the mundane events of each day but on the topics you suggest. "What is it about the sermon/homily, news of the parish or diocese, or public statements or behavior of church leaders that leads me to feel uneasy or (preferrably) safe?" We must not ignore feelings of uneasiness anymore than we should ignore an aching tooth. Rather, we should investigate the source of the feeling, and move to treat it. Observing journal entries over many months (a six-month summary, perhaps) may bring to light a need to repent of one's own thoughts and behavior, or it may suggest a need to remove oneself from a church community and seek another for one's own good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ron - Yes, that would be one strategy.

Other advice on similar lines is called daily 'spiritual injections' by Fr Seraphim Rose

and from Elder Elder D. Todd Christofferson (an LDS Apostle) in terms of daily bread.

Video - "Daily Bread: Pattern" in Mormon Messages 2013

The point is that we *need* daily spiritual sustenance, often more than once daily - indeed we *must* have this. And if we do not, we will, most of us, swiftly stray from the path, incrementally be corrupted.

Samson J. said...

the opposite feelings of deep joy, hope, love etc. which - over time - are the surest confirmation and guide to the fact that we are in harmony with reality.

Amen and amen, my friend. I often say that one of the great things about being a Christian is that it gets better over time.

tgj said...

Once you find the saints, discernment is as easy as admitting that they are right and you (and I) are wrong.

After that it's just a question of what you really want, and how much you're willing to give up in this life in order to get a little bit closer to it.