Peeking beneath the surface

                                                                                                                        -Ram Dass

I have a new job! Retirement #3 just came out of retirement. The job will involve discernment and when this one is over on June 9th, I’ll have retired 4 times! I used to snicker about people who couldn’t get retirement done. Especially ministers, which has been my calling for some time.


Just let it go, for heaven’s sake! Get a life now! One where you can sleep in and travel at will and read different books and climb mountains or swim seas or start a new calling that’s been put off. Ministry can be a brutal kind of life were it not for its deep satisfactions and sense of ultimate purpose. Retiring from that sounds like a smart thing to do. Get out of the rat race and dip your feet in the water and spend time with the grandchildren or drive elders to doctor appointments. Things like that are all over the place. Do one! Relax!


Well, it turns out that although lots of people do just that – and happily – some of us still have some untapped energy left to burn right where we’ve been for years. And our callings just have to be all used up before we can settle in to the alternatives that show up. I’m evidently one of them. Not complaining. It is what it is. It’s just that it’s still surprising when the next thing appears and I’m happily ready to jump in!


My new job – part time though it is – is to help a small congregation discern its future.  I’ve been preaching there since late September while they’ve been searching for a permanent pastor. But they are struggling, as many small churches do now. So how do they move ahead? How do they figure out what that even means for them? That’s my job. To help them find out between now and June 9th. I’m not done yet, it appears. It feels right. And it’s taken a process of discernment for me to say that.


DISCERNMENT is not just a religious word. It is a spirit word. It’s something that we all need as we make our way through our lives. It’s kind of an obscure word, one that most of us don’t use much, much less think about. If we’ve lived on the surface for a long time, it probably isn’t part of our day-to-day living anyway. But it needs to be, whether we can name it or not.


Of all the dictionary meanings, the one that I’m talking about involves “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” Perception and insight and acumen are similar. They are all part of “a power to see what is not evident to the average mind.” It turns out that even “the average mind” is quite able to employ discernment when it finds it necessary. Thank goodness.


That’s because discernment means digging deep. We don’t need a Ph.D. to do that. It’s simply opening up to a part of ourselves that lies silent most days, just waiting for us to pay attention. It’s spirit work more than mind work. It overrides our need for control and unfurls possibilities that we’d otherwise never think of on our own. Some days, its vocabulary is a simple, “Aha!”


Discernment’s gift is that it leads us to the unexpected, the unanticipated place where we’re meant to stay for a while. Or forever. It lays aside our fears and inadequacies. It shows us that today may not be forever, and tomorrow is still a promise. It holds out a new vision of where we are meant to dwell now – and how we are to be there. It guides our heart to fashion new hope and unclaimed possibilities. It bares our uncertain soul and clothes it with a beauty and an assurance that we were just waiting for. It’s not just for elderhood, but hopefully we’ve become more proficient at using it by now.


Its natural home lies in silence.

Our silence.

Which can be oh, so difficult.


It lies in the silence of meditation of all kinds. I’ve practiced transcendental meditation; guided and unguided imagery; contemplative music of many kinds. It can lie in our dreams, awake and asleep.


It lies in the silence of mindfulness practices. I love to immerse myself in the wisdom of my friend and blogger, Martha Brettschneider, at She knows how to involve us in beautiful and powerful mindfulness practices, online. Discernment at its best.  I hope you’ll check her (and her amazing photography) out.


It lies in the silence of contemplative prayer. We shall be steeped in this in my new place of serving.


It lies in the silence of the mind when we just sit quietly in our favorite soul-filling places without needing to “think” something profound. Just being soul-fed.


It lies in the silence of quietly letting go of the clacking of our too-busy minds. (Not an easy thing – but with some practice, we learn how and it is amazing!)


It lies in the silence that follows my arguments with God about some move that I just will not be happy about making. I make many, many brilliant arguments with bold words. When they inevitably run out, there is an empty space that needs filling. And discernment – and its wisdom – appears.


This discernment comes with a clear sense that, yes, this is what needs to be. This is where I will go. Calm comes alongside and contentment arrives. And I am always surprised and amazed! And that unexpended energy comes alive.


Looking back on my 77 years of life, I can see the moments of discernment. And the wonders that came out of them. I can also see the times when I avoided the silence that was needed and plunged in on my own. And how often I took the wrong turns then.


It has taken some time for me to forgive and forget those when they have come to mind. That’s an important task in elderhood. And each mistake taught me something so essential for me to learn. Discernment was my teacher when I listened. When I befriended silence.


And each silence led me to the deep well that is discernment’s intended gift: arriving home.


So, I’m not done yet. And I’m very okay with that!