Truly, God and the whole world make it impossible for a man [sic] to find true consolation who seeks his consolation in created things. But he who would in created things love God alone, and who would love created things only in God, he would find true, just and unchanging consolation everywhere. – Meister Eckhart
Discernment is perceiving and responding to reality as it is “in God,” rather than to an illusion or projection. To love created things, including myself, “in God” is to love them as they are, and not as I want them to be. It is from within this stance of acceptance that we find the freedom to respond to reality in ways that are creative and life-giving. When we are, as Gerald May puts it, “in love” in this way, we find consolation everywhere, and God’s will is discovered with each breath, in each moment.
Discernment flows from this place of spacious, gratuitous, acceptance. Too often, I forget this and think that I have to “figure out” what God wants me to do so that God will be pleased with me, or so that I can manipulate God into fulfilling my desire. But discernment flows from receiving the gift already given, from satiety overflowing into life as we are given to desire as God desires, loving all things in God.
I take it that this is what William Barry means when, quoting John Macmurray, he states that “the universe is the one action of God, informed by one intention,” and that God has revealed that intention. God does not play hide and seek with us, or taunt us with guessing games. God’s consolation is everywhere revealed when we are “in love.”
When I remember this, I can let go the idea that if I only do X, Y, and Z God’s intention will be revealed. It already has been revealed. The question is whether or not I am ready and willing to perceive it. God’s one action and intention, as Barry points out, involves the work of human freedom. Discernment is the work of two freedoms, divine and human, and I can choose to become willing to perceive and participate in God’s intention, or not.
Our capacity to perceive God’s intention is a function of how free we are with respect to the present moment. Barry speaks of this in terms of our willingness to accept the past and to surrender to the future. I would prefer to speak of “consent” rather than “surrender,” but his point is well taken. If I am captive to the past or afraid of the future, willfully trying to control or manipulate my experience of reality, I will not be free to hear the Word that is being spoken in the present.
Contemplative awareness is the state of being free to respond to reality as it is, here and now. Such awareness is the “place” where discernment happens. We can best assist others with discernment by locating ourselves in this place so as to be available to listen to God with them. This sometimes requires attending to the ways in which we cling to the past or resist the future, so as to let them go. In any case, discernment is always about living in reality and responding to it in freedom and with compassion.
My prayer for our bishops and deputies gathered in General Convention is that their decisions emerge from discernment, and not simply debate; and that their discernment be rooted in freedom rather than captivity or fear. God already has revealed the divine intention in our Creation and Redemption in Christ Jesus: it is love, and love's consolation can be found everywhere. Even at General Convention!