by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, January 29, 2017
This past weekend, in our chapel at the IHM Center in Scranton, those gathered witnessed the incorporation of a Sister from another community into the fullness of life of our IHM congregation. This tender, beautiful ceremony formally welcomed our Sister Elvia to transfer her perpetual vows from the community she had originally entered and into our IHM community, as a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton, PA).
The ceremony was also a celebration of what it means to cultivate a crossroads heart, to pay attention to Holy Mystery, to live in a state of readiness for whatever unfolds in the ordinary and the everyday. I’m still holding close to my heart the emotional impact of witnessing Elvia’s leap of faith and trust. And her incorporation has invited me to reflect on similar journeys in my life, times that called for thoughtful and sometimes challenging discernment. I invite you also to enter into today’s reflection and find the parallels to your own efforts of sorting out and responding to God’s path for you.
One of the most profound graces of my life came about many years ago when I was applying to study to become a spiritual director. As a requirement for acceptance into the program, I was asked to write a spiritual autobiography. There were guidelines and a suggestion of what we might want to include, so it seemed that for a writer like me, this would be an easy assignment. Not so! I struggled with it for days right up until the deadline. When I sat down to read what I had put to paper, I was stunned at the map of my soul’s landscape that spread out in front of me.
That map revealed that very little in my life had moved forward in a straight, unwavering line. There were seeming detours and interruptions, roads taken and not taken. As in any life, times of both heartache and delight, emotional pain and loss, as well as blessings too numerous to count. What stood out in my map reading was the outline of God’s presence in my life, the traces of the Holy that marked each step. There was discernment large and small, the messiness of decision-making, the struggling with ambiguity and the longing for absolute certainty. There were times of paralysis. There were periods of desperately waiting for a burning bush or a blinding light to knock me off my imaginary horse.
Or an eyebrow. Once, when I was companioned by a spiritual director in a long discernment process about a major life change, I kept coming to the edge of a final choice—and then I’d back away, frozen in immobility. The retreating had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with fear. The path I was already on was comfortable and familiar, but not life-giving for me, yet it was the one I knew. The possible path ahead appeared to hold the abundant life God dreams for each of us, but it was unknown. So back and forth I went. Observing this back-and-forth dance over and over, my director finally asked, “Chris, what is it that you really want?” I heard myself say, “I want an eyebrow!” I explained that I wanted to see on my director’s face some indication of the path I should embrace and choose. I wanted her eyebrow to go up or down, revealing what she thought was the better choice for me.
As a now long-time spiritual director, I know it’s not the role of a spiritual guide to provide an eyebrow or a quick and easy answer, but to listen with and companion another with attention and intention. In Discernment, a Path to Spiritual Awakening, Rose Mary Dougherty notes that, “The habit of discernment fine-tunes the ear of the heart so that we hear more clearly the invitations to love intrinsic to every moment of life. In the habit of discernment, our choices are again and again refined by the invitations to love. Gradually we come to know what is consonant with love, what we need to do or need not to do, and, with grace, we are free to respond.”
What is consonant with love: that’s the question Deuteronomy (30:19-20) poses to us:
“I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make.
Choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”
In discernments large and small, may we choose what is consonant with love. May we discern wisely and well, gathering the best information and wisdom we can and summoning, with God’s grace, the courage we need to move into the unknown. May we listen with openness to the present moment and so cultivate a heart always ready for the crossroads ahead.
Reflect on a time when you were faced with a significant choice in your life.
What factors were involved?
Who or what helped you to choose?
How did prayer figure into your decision-making?
What were the consequences of your choice?
Spend some quiet time in prayers of gratitude for God’s presence and the accompaniment and support of others at that time of decision-making.
NOTE: Thank you to all of you who held in your prayer the directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville. Special thanks to Brother Chris Derby, SJ, Susan Bowers-Baker, all of the Center staff, directors, and retreatants who contributed to making the weekend a graced experience in that holy place.
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