Discernment - Ways to Practice - Ideas

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

— Galatians 5:22-23

Discerning the Spirit as an individual
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of Jesuits, offered a model that includes these requisites: a passionate commitment to follow God, an attitude of indifference toward all other drives and desires, and a deep sensitivity to the ways and being of God.

•   Become aware of as many dimensions of the decision as possible. Investigate information sources; weigh pros and cons; consult with confidants.

•   Consider the negatives, the decision you feel least inclined to choose. Live with the idea for awhile. What feelings of consolation or desolation emerge? Feelings of consolation are those that give rise to life, love, peace, joy, creativity, and communion. These are harmonious with the Spirit, even when painful. Feelings of desolation give rise to despair, confusion, alienation, destructiveness, and discord.

•   Repeat process of consideration with the side to which you were initially more attracted. Which choice gave rise to the deeper feelings of consolation?

•   Take action in order to complete the discernment process. Discernment rarely yields absolute certainty; rather action itself is part of the discernment process. Sometimes action reveals that a direction is misguided, in which case you need to repeat the discernment process.

Here are suggested criteria to discern whether or not a spiritual prompting is authentic:
•   Is it faithful to scripture and to the larger tradition?
•   Does it manifest the fruit of the Spirit within the individual and community?
•   Is it characterized by a genuine sense of inner authority and peace?
•   Does it promote reconciliation rather than divisiveness?
•   Does it enhance rather than diminish life?
•   Has the discernment process been engaged with integrity?

Discerning the Spirit in communities
Begin in silence, move through discussion, and repeat the silence when necessary (sort of a communal "time out" when feelings run high). The discussion stage of discernment often begins tentatively and gradually becomes more purposeful, until a direction begins to gain a wave of support. Members build on one another's ideas, endorsing and refining the rising consensus. If no such tide emerges after some time, postpone the discussion. One important sign of confirmation is a peaceful conviction permeating the entire community, including those who dissented, that the decision is the one that will most allow the community to be faithful to God.

Ignatian communal discernment does not require full consensus. When it is determined that consensus will not emerge within the available time, the group can agree that the decision will be made by majority vote. (In Quaker communal discernment, participants honor dissent by "standing aside" to respect an emerging consensus or "standing against" to redirect the course of action being considered.)

Participant requirements for communal discernment toward consensus
•   Trust that the resolution has the potential to be based on something larger than self-interest and partisanship.

•   Seek personal wisdom about God's direction for the community, laying aside control and esteem needs for the sake of finding God's leading through the whole community.

•   Create a safe space to speak and process that includes the voices of everyone present, which may sometimes necessitate small group sharing.

•   Remain open to the wisdom of other participants, even when it may not sound like wisdom upon first hearing.

Questions and activities
•   Recall a decision that in retrospect was a wise one. How did you make it? What factors did you weigh? With whom did you consult? What would have been the consequences if you had made a different decision?

•   Recall a decision that you have made that you now regret. What was the process by which you make that decision? Have you since discovered clues about how you could have made that decision differently?

•   Make a short list of persons you might call when you are faced with a tough decision. What do you look for from these persons? How do they help you?

•   As a group, role-play the process of communal discernment as if you were a decision-making body of your community. You could choose a real decision that faces your community to come up with a hypothetical scenario.
•   Encounter scripture using a contemplative approach such as lectio divina. For a detailed description of how to use lectio divina in groups, see Gathered in the Word: Praying the Scripture in Small Groups by Norvene Vest (Upper Room Books, 1996).

Lectio Divina
A good source for lectio divina for personal or group use is the following website:

Do you have a link to recommend? send us your ideas

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