I am re-reading Rose Mary Dougherty's beautiful book, Discernment: a path to spiritual awakening. It is the distillation of the teaching of one of the great living spiritual guides of our time. Sr. Rose Mary, SSND is a Roman Catholic religious and a Zen Buddhist sensei, who has taught at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation for many years. She melds together Ignatian, Carmelite, Quaker, and Zen spirituality, refined in the furnace of her own spiritual practice. When she says that "We live in the ashes of our freedom," she is speaking from experience. All the dross has been burned away to reveal the living flame of love in her simple, yet profound, reflections.
While Doughtery provides a basic grounding in traditional understandings of discernment and the practices that aid in the cultivation of a discerning heart, the essence of her teaching is the conviction that discernment is a way of life rooted in prayer. Discernment is not so much a method(s) for making decisions as it is a fundamental orientation of ourselves towards God. "The habit of discernment is an attitude of listening to God in all of life. We might also describe it as a posture of openness to God in all of life or simply as prayerfulness." (p. 22)
The purpose of discernment is not about self-knowledge as an end-in-itself, or about making the "right" choices in life. Its purpose is the experience of freedom to love. "Discernment is ultimately about love. It is about seeing in the moment, the loving action and compassionate action that is mine and having the freedom to respond and to act . . . That love gradually determines all our choices. We begin to awaken to the invitations issued by love and are ready to respond out of the authenticity of our being." (p. 29-30). Dougherty helps to illumine the sources of our "unfreedom," the barriers to love, and uncover our deepest desire for "an unrestricted love in all of life." (p. 28).
This book is a wonderful resource for pastors and spiritual directors, and the six short chapters would serve well as the focus of a book study, perhaps during Lent. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to nurture his or her desire for God.