Reflection from BFL Catechist – Larry Ehren (Originally printed in Listening Hearts Ministries, Explorations newsletter Vol. 31 number 1)
It is always a joy when new things emerge that you did not anticipate. One might call these surprise experiences synchronicity; others might refer to them as “graced moments.”
Last spring, I participated in a week-long training with Listening Hearts Ministries. The focus of the week was to learn how to discern God’s call in community. The Listening Hearts model for group discernment is a unique blend of Quaker, Ignatian, and Benedictine spiritualities. While the background and process of communal discernment are clearly outlined in the book, Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community, the experience of practicing discernment in a cohort of fellow pilgrims is the best way to learn this mode of decision-making. Each participant brings to the training a real-life issue for discernment. This practice of spiritual discernment concerning an issue in your life incorporates prayer, deep listening to others, silence, sharing personal aspects of life in a safe environment, gradually building trust, having the best interest of one another, and being committed to the process. Discernment needs to be experienced to be integrated into one’s heart and life. At the end of the time together, not only did I experience the reality of a community of faith, but I also had a sense of empowerment to train others.
I have experienced communal discernment in the past, while I was a member of the Jesuit religious order in my twenties and during my doctoral coursework in Christian spirituality at Virginia Theological Seminary. Participating in discernment with a wide variety of people who did not know one another before our week of training produced surprising results. We represented very different lifestyles, ages, professions, backgrounds, and regions of the country, and yet we journeyed well with one another.
I find I can use the Listening Hearts model in several ways in my work in the Episcopal Church. It is being incorporated into the ministry discernment process that my diocese uses for lay licensed ministries and ordained ministries. Listening Hearts methods are being added to the adult catechumenate ministry, which is to assist newly baptized, confirmed, or received adults in discerning how they will use their gifts in ministry. Currently, I am using the discernment model found in Listening Hearts’ second book, Grounded in God, to assist an ecumenical group in determining their future.
I consider the week of learning and practicing spiritual discernment with Listening Hearts as a series of graced moments. Graced moments, I believe, are very real experiences during which you are touched by God, and after which you are really never the same. They can be strong or rather subtle. Within yourself, you may feel one or more signs of God’s Spirit: a sense of joy, a feeling of new life and delight that is not fleeting, a peace that is deep and lasting, or a sense of being connected to other people or something larger than yourself. These sacred moments can be small or big, in solitude or in community, in formal prayer or in everyday life. You may notice them in the moment or upon reflection of the past. Most important, you have an inner sense that they are pure gifts that you did not create yourself. In one sense they are unsettling, because they have the ability to transform you, which can feel frightening and energizing at the same time.
I am deeply struck by my recent discovery that the Listening Hearts discernment model can be implemented in a number of pastoral applications in my life. Eureka!
Indeed, these have been Graced moments.
(Learn more at www.listeninghearts.org)