I have been thinking about discernment today. In particular, how do we discern which voices to listen to, and which voices to turn away from? I remember when our second child was born. When she first met her elder brother, she heard him talking as he entered the hospital room. While she was in my arms she turned her head and focused her gaze (as much as a newborn can do so) on that very familiar voice that she recognized from the womb. She knew the sound of his voice.
We talk about listening for the voice of God as one way to undertake discernment. What does that voice sound like? How do we turn our heads and focus our gaze when that voice appears in scripture, in our prayers, or through other people?
You may remember the account of the two disciples who encountered Jesus on their way home to the village of Emmaus on that very first Easter Sunday. They did not know that Jesus had been raised from the dead when a stranger joined them on their walk. Gradually he explained all that they needed to know about Jesus, the ways that the scriptures had foretold his birth, death, and resurrection. Then finally, when the two disciples invited the stranger to join them for a meal in their home, we read that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
This account highlights many of the common steps we take in discernment. We begin by looking for connections between our own lives, our own experience and the witness of the scriptures. Some call this the “scripture test.” Would the actions we are considering be praised by what we understand as the teachings of Jesus?
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we often need someone else to help us see the connections. The disciples needed Jesus, the stranger on the road with them, to help them understand. We, too, often need someone to journey with us, to help us unpack the message of the scriptures and apply them to our lives. Our fellow Christians help us through their wisdom. We may also hear the voice of Jesus in our prayers and study helping us to make these connections.
But notice with me that in the Emmaus account, initially Jesus was the stranger on the road. He was not someone the disciples recognized. He was a stranger. And yet, they listened, they were willing to hear what this stranger had to say. And through the stranger’s voice they heard the voice of God.
I wonder what strangers we are listening to these days. I find that today’s strangers come in two forms for me. The first is the stranger who barges into my Facebook feed, or my email. I see the stranger in the video, the article, the news item that a friend likes and is therefore shown to me. But, is that a stranger I should listen to or not? At times like these, I am reminded of the wise words of the fictional character, Molly Weasley, in the Harry Potter books, who says to her children about a magically enchanted object that has become a source of trouble for them, "Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can't see where it keeps its brain." Applied to our newsfeeds, that means checking the source – who is behind this article? What is the purpose of it? It helps us to know whether this is a stranger’s voice worth our time, when we know the authors’ bias, or whether the news site is known for offering balanced or partisan views. A helpful link to sort this out is here: https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-chart Discernment in the daily email, the daily newsfeed, means knowing who is behind the message we are seeing or reading.
There is a lot of talk today about the bubble we each live in and in which we read the news of the world. That bubble tends to look a lot like us, and while I like a lot of people who look like me, I know that there are plenty of good ideas from people in other countries, people with different backgrounds and experiences than I have. But so often those people are outside my bubble – they are a second kind of stranger in my life. Lately I have been intentionally finding more of these strangers to listen to, to add to my discernment. A favorite way for me is to read or watch the news is to look for news from the Canadian press. I also have a number of respected clergy colleagues who are black, indigenous, or persons of color, and I seek out their writings, often on their blogs. I try to choose my strangers wisely. I listen to them and what they have to say, so that I may grow in my own understanding, and in the words of these strangers I may also hear God’s word to me, the word I am trying to discern.
In time, like the disciples at their kitchen table in Emmaus, the pieces of our discernment fall into place and we know what direction we need to take. The two disciples left their home and went back to Jerusalem to share with others the good news Jesus had shared with them. May our ordinary daily discernments and our more momentous ones be ones in which we hear clearly the voice of Jesus.