When Quakers are faced with difficult choices, we have a tool for that.
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- Christopher Sammond talks about accessing a place of deep faithfulness, where we have no investment about which side of a question we end up on. Have you experienced being in that place in your own life? How did you get there? What did it feel like?
- Some Friends use the Quaker practice of discernment for major life milestones like weddings and career changes, while others seem to use discernment, as Patricia McBee says, “relatively spontaneously” throughout their day. Which of these more closely resembles your use of discernment? How has it helped you when you’ve used it?
Christopher Sammond: Discernment is really the heart and the core of everything we do as Friends. It’s the core of our practice in worship, it’s the core of our practice in worship for business, it’s the center of how we make decisions in our lives, to marry, for our employment, for our work in the world, for our ministry…
The Quaker Practice of Discernment
Niyonu Spann: The process of discernment and being called, or having a leading or the deepest knowing—all of those feel like incredibly connected, if not the exact same thing.
Walter Hjelt Sullivan: For me, discernment is the core technology of Quakerism. It is the thing that we learn to do and that our faith supports. And that is to thresh through the complexity of life and find the kernel, find the root, find the way: the way for me today, at this moment.
Patricia McBee: Some people may call it seeking the will of God. Others may call it consulting their deep inner wisdom. I think a lot of people do discernment relatively spontaneously when they have a sticky issue to deal with, and they stop, they let it rest a while. They let an answer rise up in them.
Walter Hjelt Sullivan: …to tell the difference between the still small voice that’s guiding me well and the many other voices—the many other fine, human voices—that are within me.
Callid Keefe-Perry: So, discernment is listening for God’s will for us to move us more fully into God’s understanding of the kingdom of heaven, of right order between all creation—humans and plants and animals and ideas, I would even say.
Balancing the Spiritual with the Intellectual
Patricia McBee: Of course, part of Quaker discernment is the rational, reasonable assessment of the pros and cons of the decision at hand. Discernment takes it a step farther than that and invites us to go to a deep place, a centered place, and to see how… how where our rational minds have led us sits in us.
Christopher Sammond: Discernment is accessing that place where God is at work in us, and it’s well beyond rational, thoughtful weighing of the situation. It’s not without an information gathering phase where we have to understand the parameters clearly, but then, after that, it comes down to accessing that same place that vocal ministry comes from, that place of deep faithfulness where we don’t care whether it’s this or that. We have no investment in which side of that question we fall on, and: “God what do you want me to do here?”
Callid Keefe-Perry: And so then we listen with the reason, we listen with emotion, we listen with inspiration, and, kind of, more than a touch of hope. And I’ll say, experientially, I know that it functions. It works. That when we trust one another, when we are able to be vulnerable with one another, when we allow ourselves to think that it might actually be the case that God is an actual thing that we might actually be able to hear and might live into actually better lives, well—lo and behold—something happens in that space.
Niyonu Spann: So, discernment, for me, is definitely a listening, but it also is this process of allowing and letting go.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.