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Discerning God’s Will

February 25th, 2014by Dan Thomas

Recently at the Sunday liturgy we sang “Jesus, Lead Me.” It is not the most powerful or deep or even beautiful of music, but it raised a question for me about how I/we know where it is that Jesus is leading us.

Nearly a month ago, I read the book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen with Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird. This book is the third of a series (the other two are Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, and Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit) of books using Henri Nouwen’s mostly unpublished writings to explore the Christian spiritual journey all of us Christians are called to walk. Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird of the Nouwen Legacy Trust, pull together these writings so that the reader experiences the thought, feelings, and insights of Henri Nouwen, one of the great spiritual writers of the 20th century.

How do we discern? The title of Part Two captures something of the process: “Discerning Guidance in Books, Nature, People, and Events.” In the midst of our winter from hell, I have asked myself what can I discern in this year’s “book of nature.”

natureIt strikes me as I listen to the local and national news how catastrophic and fearsome both of these make the weather. I don’t want to deny or downplay some of the tragedy of this weather causes, but there is a meaning that we can draw for ourselves in the challenge of winter. As Nouwen puts it, “While it is true that God is a hidden presence, we have only to let nature speak to us about the God who is everywhere.”

As I reflect on our recent weather events, some insights come to me. First, fear is what the weather reporters seems to emphasize and, while caution is essential, fear gets in the way of seeing the right direction and response with weather and with life.

A second thought is that difficulty calls from us a way to use the resources that we have.  Our communities respond to these by helping others. Neighbors and fellow drivers shove sidewalks and push one another out of snowdrifts. Individually we work out how to deal with the challenges this weather brings.

There is also the beauty that snow, fog and ice bring out. The peace and quiet of a snow-covered backyard gives us pause to reflect on the creator of this world. The surprise of closed activities calls us to be with those close to us.

My belief as a Catholic Christian calls me to see deeper than the surface of all things, to know that there is meaning and challenge everywhere even in these difficulties. God speaks to us always and everywhere. Thus there is a “leading” going on even in this “winter from hell or maybe it’s the winter from heaven.”

Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas is a retired Director of Religious Education, living in Dayton Ohio. His education includes graduation from Chaminade HS and the University of Dayton (MA in Pastoral Ministry). He is married with two adult sons and is a parishioner at St. Helen, Dayton.