Discernment and the Community of Innocence

Discernment is at the heart of all good religion, and all good science. It is at the heart of life itself. Anthony Stevens and John Price say, in their book, Evolutionary Psychiatry, that the Platonic meaning of the word “science” is “the discovery of things as they really are.” Jesus said, among other things that are equally relevant, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Science and religion are about finding, and aligning ourselves with, things as they are.

Discernment has always ranked high with Quakers, many of whom still meet together in silence in Meeting Houses, not churches, to listen together, and discern the leading, or the leanings, of the spirit at work in their midst. One can request an audience with a Discernment Committee when standing before one’s future, with a marriage at stake, perhaps, or a job, or a move across the country or an ocean.

We can learn some things from Quakers, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an association with them when it comes to finding our way in the world. That’s finding Our Way in the world, which is not to be confused with just any way, or anyone else’s way. It is the Way that is uniquely, individually, personally our own, even though, as it sometimes turns out, we don’t want to have anything to do with it.

What we want doesn’t have anything to do with it—to do with anything. What we want is the most irrelevant of things. That is one of the aspects of truth that sets us free. What we want doesn’t matter. Our place is to find the work that needs us to do it—the work that makes our heart sing, whether we want to admit it or not—and do it. We are set free to do what needs to be done, what needs us to do it. That’s what discernment will do for us.

The path to enlightenment and fullness of life is found in living so as to be transparent to ourselves, and to be open to each situation so that it is transparent to us. Once we see ourselves as we are (and also are), and each situation as it is, what to do flows naturally as a stream goes downhill. Seeing is knowing what is happening, what needs to be done in response, and what is capable of being done within the restraints of the situation—and is doing what can be done with the resources available to us, and within the limits imposed on us—and is being awake, aware, alive and responsible to the time and place, the here and now, the yin and yang, of our living. Seeing—discernment—is the path to living fully in response to the moment of our living.

Discernment comes in two forms, the personal and the communal, but in both, it is about finding our life and living it—within, and responsive to, each situation as it arises. We find our life personally, individually, and we find our life communally, as a community of like-minded people with no ideology, doctrine or theology to get in their way.

The heart of discernment is mindful, compassionate, awareness that sees what it looks at without judgment, willfulness or opinion. Discernment requires us to live transparent to ourselves as an individual, and as a community. Seeing means seeing ourselves—as we are and as we also are, which is how we are (as yin plus yang are Tao)—on both levels.

The central focus, purpose and ground of the community is the individual life of each member of the community. Individually, we have to be seeking and living our life. When we talk about our life, we have to talk about what makes our heart sing, about what we love, and how we are serving that with the life we are living. When we talk about our life, we have to talk about the source of our vitality—of our vital energy—for the life we are living.

We come together as a community to keep ourselves on track with our life, on the beam, in the center of our life’s will for us, need of us. The community helps us stay on track by asking about our symptoms and our dreams—sleeping and waking. Our symptoms and our dreams are clues to how things are in our life, to what is happening, to what is trying to come to life in us, and through us, and how we are assisting or resisting it. Our symptoms and our dreams do not lie. If we want to know how it is with us, we have to look no farther than our symptoms and our dreams.

We are always slipping away from our life, and have to be redirected by our symptoms and dreams, and by the right kind of conversations. The right kind of community is good for the right kind of conversations. Is good for the right kind of questions. The right kind of listening. The right kind of community listens us to the truth of who we are, helping us be mindfully aware of ourselves, transparent to ourselves.

Self-transparency, living transparent to ourselves, is the sine qua non of life at one with itself, of wholeness and oneness of being. If we are not living toward self-transparency, we cannot be a member in good faith of the right kind of community. We have to be doing the work! Everything hinges on individuals doing the work of knowing who they are, and living in ways that express who they are in ways appropriate to the occasion, in each situation as it arises.

Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” We have to learn how to live in good faith with ourselves and one another—and do it! Each member of the right kind of community has to be engaged in the work of finding and living his, her, own life.

The vitality of the community depends upon the vitality of each member. The community can be no more vitally alive than each person in the community. The community enables vitality in its members, and depends upon the vitality of its members, who, in turn, enable the vitality of the community and depend upon it for their own. The circle is complete and eternal, yet, each member of the right kind of community must live in the service of her, his, own vitality.

We live in the service of our life by doing what has life for us, what is vital for us, what causes our heart to sing and our soul to dance. We live with integrity when we live in ways that are integral with our life, with what is deepest, truest and best about us. We live with integrity when we live at one with ourselves, when the life we are living is an expression of what brings us to life.

As we live our life, we gravitate to—and create—a community of those who are living their life. This is the “like-minded-ness” of the community. “Like-minded-ness” has nothing to do with doctrine, theology or ideology, but with the realization that our life is central to our vitality, and our vitality is central to our life.

We cannot live any way at all and be vital, whole, vibrant and filled with the energy and joy of life. When we know that the quality of our life is dependent upon the nature of the life we are living, we seek those who can help us be centered in, and grounded upon, the life that is our life to live. We, in turn, help them live in ways that are centered in, and ground upon, the life that is their life to live. The importance of living centered in, and grounded upon, the life that is ours to live is what “like minds” understand, and exhibit in living their life.

And, together, “like minds” create a community that encourages and sustains vitality and life among the lives of those who make up the community, through the development of eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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