Spiritual Discernment for Groups and Communities
Author: Stephanie A. Hull
After attending a Listening Hearts group retreat for discernment, I picked up the first book written by this ministry, Discerning Call in Community. The book was deeply spiritual, yet approachable. It represented ideas and practices in simple terms that stirred the spirit and opened my eyes to aspects of God and my relationship with Him and fellow Christians. Tending toward the hermit, the book truly opened my eyes to the necessity of community and the ways in which God speaks through others and through the events within our lives. I picked up the next book, Grounded in God, simply because it was written by the same ministry and although intended for groups, carries on many of the same theological introspections and calls to a quiet, contemplative approach to God.
Grounded in God reiterates many of the ideas established in Discerning Call in Community, although with a more overarching focus on how a leader might approach a group or lead a group in the process of discerning God’s message or the implications/meanings of a particular situation. This book discusses the typical broad procedures and gives tips on how discernment not only makes us more centered (aka grounded) in God, but more apt to fully digest what is being said and to listen to others. These teachings and approaches could also be approached in a secular manner to establish more complete agreement among a group and a greater chance of arriving at a truly satisfactory, well thought out decision. Grounded in God does, however, establish that not all groups or meetings will end with an answer, and gives tips as to how to approach this and how to accept that even in deep discernment, an answer may not be forthcoming, immediately or otherwise.
As with the first book, this guide to discernment breaks the narrative into two halves. The first nine chapters concentrate on the overarching ideas including a definition of discernment, pointers for listening, questioning, engaging the imagination, intuiting signals, arriving at consensus, launching out, planning meetings, and eventually building a discerning community of practice whether spiritually or within a secular environment. The second portion of the book is broken down into the Appendices which (unlike regular books) are something you most certainly want to read.
The appendices take us beyond the introduction of concepts into implementation. These appendices will guide leaders’ discernment group members into applying the guidelines. The appendices include guidelines to facilitate a group both from the leader and member side, suggestions for exploring scripture and creative methods within a group, tips on how to approach discernment and fellow group members, and even an appendix on how to orient new members or revitalize an existing community.
The book itself is a compact, easy read and, as with the first Listening Hearts book I picked up, uses approachable language and explanations to get at deep concepts and truly expound the discernment process to readers. Having recently read The Confessions of St. Augustine, I was elated to find a book dedicated to increasing my spirituality and improving my reactions to others that was on a level easy to understand and implement. Where ever you are in your spiritual journey, this book will resonate as it is about leading us to God, and not expecting us to have all the answers. This is a guide on how to truly seek answers.
From a personal reader standpoint, I found Discerning Call in Community to be the more helpful of the two books since it was written more with an audience of discerners in mind. Grounded in God, however, is geared more towards a person wishing to lead a discernment group. Regardless, the two books pair well together and are sure to help anyone on their spiritual journey. Recommended.
- Frances Carden
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