Discernment: Into Walmart and Into Great Silence

Our Benedictine College Experience class for first semester first-year students gives our freshmen a grounding in the Benedictine tradition, as well as introducing them to the “four pillars’ of our College: Catholic, Benedictine, Liberal Arts, Residential.

My assignment for one of our last meetings includes these thoughts:

I’m always “in a hurry”.
I’m always “connected”.
I’m always “overstimulated”.
I’m always “busy”.
I’m_________________________.. (keep this in your heart).

You and I can count the ways we’re interrupted, or how we allow ourselves to be interrupted each day. There are mandatory interruptions and those which we give permission to invade our personal space.

How to sort them?

We’ve spent a great deal of time this semester emphasizing listening versus hearing. There are non-verbal cues that require your attention, too. Are you aware of ways to recognize the lack of someone saying something to you, an act that requires as much attention as physically listening. The impact from the non-verbal cues can be, as you’ve seen,

Consider your reaction when you go to, say, Walmart in search of a specific product that you need. Before you get to the location of that one thing … distractions galore (“impulse items” in retail jargon). Getting past the “junk” to your intended goal is a form of discernment.

You can apply the same pattern in working toward choosing carefully in parsing out your time to pursue and complete class work, readings, prayer time, whatever . There are no guarantees, but seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance to clear distractions will help. If you are very deep into seeking the answer to a deeply involved or personal issue, again, I recommend sitting for a time at Abbey Point and listening. You will hear that answer, and it may be something entirely different that what you believe is the correct path.

The Catholic faith, and the Benedictine tradition in particular, promote recollection and discernment. Recollection is the act of keeping at the forefront of our attention those things that are of the greatest importance and the refusal to let them be drowned out by the requirements of our daily work or the demands of the moment. Discernment, in turn, requires humility. Discernment requires us to wait to act or form an opinion when we do not yet know enough to act well or to form a good opinion.  This sense of perspective grounds us and keeps our academic pursuits from becoming either too faddish or too detached from the world around us.

When producer Philip Gröning sought permission to film a documentary about Benedictine life at the famous abbey of the Grand Chartreuse, the monks requested some time to consider his request — famously taking 16 years before deciding to let him film Into Great Silence (2005). Recollection and discernment require the strength to suspend judgment when needed.

Both recollection and discernment require a kind of interior silence. To remember ourselves, to ask whether we know enough to yet form an opinion, to discern the call of God, silent reflection is necessary.

Michael Throop