Mr. Gula tells us that “The first steps in discerning are to identify and clarify what is going on in our experience and what feelings and somatic reactions are evoked by the experience” (99). Pastoral ministry begins with the offer of safety, acceptance and honor (117). If we had only experiences of safety, acceptance and honor, the art of discernment would come naturally. But we have built up internal blocks as we are wounded. I think the existence of an internal block is not rooted so much in the offense itself that we suffer, but in our reaction to it, at the moment of hurt.
On my first eight-day spiritual retreat, I was able to discern when I allowed a large internal block to form. I believed the darkness rather than God, at a point of suffering. I was then vulnerable to the powers of darkness. Now I am able to “create a future that makes good the past” (15). I am seeing good coming out of bad. Removing internal blocks exposes pain, but more importantly releases our capacity for authentic personhood. About a year ago, I heard God say “You’ve skillfully woven a bright and deep tapestry of knowledge, hope and love.” For the first time I am not only able to believe in myself, but I can offer that gift to others, thereby moving out of fog into a place of peacefulness.
As Gula explores our roles as members of society I recall an article from my class on The Psychology and Spirituality of Relationships. In The Complexity of Connection Maureen Walker and Jean Baker Miller speak of the ways the powerful have to do violence. Those without a hiding place are more easily scapegoated. This patterns “allows the top people to not really see or admit to what they participate in—another way of living without knowing” (133). This disconnection creates an external block, by being invisible and unnamable, thus unknowable.
Gula posits that beliefs act as a channel for our emotions and intuition. We need to examine our assumptions, or beliefs, so we do not allow another’s belief to limit our intuition. For my Biblical elective course, I read In Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas. She says “the study of taboo impinges inevitably upon the philosophy of belief. The taboo-maintained rules will be as repressive as the leading members of the society want them to be . . . Criticism will be suppressed, whole areas of life become unspeakable and, in consequence, unthinkable” (Douglas xiii). So discernment is a process of learning to trust our own ability to interpret our experience well, rather than being blind to the structures in our lives that are invisibly serving the shadow of the powerful. The superego is built by the powerful. It is only when we are our own person, willing to dance with reality, that we can have a functioning conscience.
The Spirit of God is our source of empowerment and we can meet that Spirit in authentic dialogues. Then we are able to “unearth options” (83). I like his verb, unearth. From the soil beneath our feet come organic, life-giving options. Gula believes our lives are meaningful (95). To see ourselves as part of a larger whole, we connect the dots and that always requires that we draw some of our lines outside the frame of what we expect. Can I imagine peace? Then I will surrender to this task.
Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966
Gula, Richard M. Moral Discernment. New York: Paulist Press, 1997
Jordan, Judith V., Maureen Walker, and Linda M. Hartling Editors. The Complexity of Connection. New York: The Guilford Press. 2004