This August, as I sat on the shore of an Ontario lake in the summer sun, I felt a sense of eternity in the granite rocks, the tall pine trees and the rhythms of nature. Every summer I delight in the natural world, which grounds me in its rhythms that adapt and change yet remain true to their purpose—for that is our calling, too.
Our world is facing rapid change in every sphere of life. Globalization, migration, technology, climate change, employment patterns and economic upheavals touch our lives directly. Meanwhile, we are deluged with impacts felt around the globe through instant and constant communication. As complexity increases, the desire for simple answers polarizes communities, making the other “side” an enemy. We live in the midst of the pressures to choose a side and ignore the nuances and complexity of human life in our decisions. Such pressures raise a question: What is our call as Christians?
Our call is the practice of discernment rooted and grounded in the purposes of the Creator, not only for us but for all humankind. The Great Commandment—to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself—is the starting place. By keeping our focus here and on the depth of God’s love for all creation, our discernment begins.
Some years ago, on a sabbath leave from parish ministry, I felt drawn to the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, who developed a practice of intensive prayer focused on the life of Jesus in the scriptures. Bringing my life into dialogue with Jesus in prayer cut through procrastination and self-justification. It clarified where confession was needed and helped discern next steps. It was a profound experience of deepening my roots in God so that decisions were more clearly aligned with God’s purposes. It also invited me into a deep intimacy with Jesus that continues to sustain my prayer life and discernment today.
A continuous practice of discernment, rooted in God’s vision for the world, is essential for us. That discernment requires a willingness to know God and be known by God so that we may know what we are called to do and be. We are invited to root ourselves in God’s purposes and to be open to new possibilities. This is not just an individual task. It is also a communal one, as we need the perspectives and insights of others to help us hear and see how God is known to them in ways we had not considered. It is an invitation to discipleship that embraces our lives fully.
Although this sounds simple, it requires commitment to the disciplines of the Christian life that we were called to in our baptism—reading scripture; prayer; self-examination and repentance; worship and community life; and daily actions to love others and God’s creation. Whenever I find myself floundering in the chaos of impending decisions, I know I must first return my focus to God’s purposes, then listen to others—including those with whom I might disagree—and finally choose a course of action that will draw me closer to God and God’s vision for all. This is the work of discernment as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is the work of putting down deep roots in God (Psalm 1). It is our work in a federal election. It is our work in daily life. It is our work as a church.