Discernment is a process. It is about questioning and listening. It is about paying attention to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Discernment is a journey as we move along the path of life and listen to where God is leading and calling us to be at a given time. At times discernment can be a clear straightforward process and at other times it can be muddy and unclear. Filled with doubts and questions if this is really where we are being called in this place and time. Or when we push down the stirring within us because we don’t think we are really called to wherever we are being led. One of the many things that this last year of pandemic life brought us was a slowdown of the pace of life and the constant busyness of our schedules. This change in pace gave many of us space to listen to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I know it did for me.
When I was given the space and time to reflect I began to notice a pattern of events and conversations that all seemed to be connected and leading me to discern where God might be calling me next. A I looked back over the past year or two I began to see all the little moments over time poking and prodding me into the realm of eco-theology. I grew up on a farm and have a passion for regenerative agriculture and creation care. From conversations with others to articles sent my way by friends, from a documentary I stumbled upon to a few lectures I got to attend by chance, I began to notice a common thread that was bringing me to wonderings of what was next.
An important part of the discernment process is conversations in community. Having people to hold space for you as you share your inner reflections and questions. People to act as a sounding board as you work through what you are discerning. To have space to be open and share all of what we are feeling. We are people made for community and connection so it should not be surprising that our discernment can take community to become fully realized. It is often in conversations with others that we are able to see better ourselves. Sometimes it takes that other eye to name what we may be feeling but unable to put into words. And sometimes they can just see better than we can the gifts we have and name those for us.
As I started this discernment process of how I might bridge my passions for ministry and for regenerative agriculture and creation care I was thinking more about studying ecology or environmental science to learn about the practical aspects of ecosystems and caring for the earth. Seminary was not really on my radar at all. It was through conversations with trusted mentors and friends that I was reminded of the Farminary program at Princeton Seminary. “A place where theological education is integrated with small-scale regenerative agriculture to train faith leaders who are conversant in the areas of ecology, sustainability, and food justice.” I was also reminded that I happen to have a professor from my undergrad who is now teaching there and that I should reach out to him. That got the ball rolling and through him I was connected with the director of the Farminary and others at PTS. From there on it just felt like the right combination of things, with the tangible and practical aspect of the Farminary.
In our lives we will experience all of the ups and downs, the joys and doubts of discernment as we move through our journey of life. At times it will be easy and at others it will be more complex. When I think about my journey to where I am at I have already experienced these varying levels of clarity in my discernment so far. My discernment into the LDA’s deaconess program is hard for me to really describe as discernment because it just felt like the right place and that I was meant to be there and do that. By the time I was the right age to apply to the program I don’t think there was even a question about if I was applying. This time around there was a lot more wrestling and doubts and questions. It was only when I found connection and shared in community that I began to see more clearly and find the connections that lead me to this next step.
Discernment is a journey that we travel throughout our lives. I pray that as you walk this journey you may have community to walk alongside you as you weave and wind this path together.
Walk with me, good and loving God, as I journey through life. May I take your hand and be led by the Holy Spirit. Fill me, inspire me, free me to respond generously to your call. Help me see those you have placed beside me to walk this journey and to support me through the moments of question and the moments of certainty. Amen.
(adapted from Sisters of Notre Dame)