What is your understanding of discernment?

Our recent Meetings for Learning have started to look at some well known words which are often used within Quakers. To try and put my understanding of discernment into words was a real challenge!

In Quaker Faith and Practice, para 13.05 says “ We meet as we do because we believe that, gathered together, we are capable of greater clarity of vision”. For me that idea of clearer vision links to images associated with the word discernment, that speak of threshing, winnowing, sifting, finding the kernel ,and separating the wheat from the chaff.

So how do we go about practising discernment within Friends? Firstly I think discernment can be both an individual and corporate process. Individually, this could mean thinking and reflecting before acting, considering any actions in the light of our Testimonies, and asking for the listening ear of spiritual friends to thresh out a concern, idea or belief. Listening to others and ourselves, recognising prejudices, fears and hopes may well also play a part in the process, alongside holding ourselves in the Light until the vision is clearer.

Corporate discernment also involves listening to self and others and to the light within us. Contemporary Quakers often come into Friends from different traditions. When we travel we tend to take our language with us, and perhaps it behoves us to check our understanding of others’ words, so that our seeking can more often lead to unity rather than misunderstanding. We are helped to discern through knowing each other in things temporal and eternal.

I shared with Friends at the MfL that my experience of discernment can  also include physical reactions. Waiting and listening to self, others and holding that listening in the Light can lead to discomfort…..often a useful state as it offers a nudge to move or shift position! Discernment requires patience.

Discernment is a process not a fixed point in time. It can be an adventure, but may also disturb. We may need to become better informed about the matter in hand. We use the enquiring and rational part of ourselves. Add to that the emotional part of us; how we feel, past experiences or “messages”. Within Friends those two aspects are then drawn into worship; they are waited upon, held in the Light, communicated to each other in words or silently, and dropped into the pool of unknowing from which greater clarity can emerge. This for me is a place of faithfulness.

Sue Tuckwell   18-11-20