Communal or collaborative discernment and its practice is something I’ve long found fascinating. There’s much to be said for a collective approach, especially when we think of the complexity we face everyday, especially when we think of the sheer scale of data that is available to us today. How do we make decisions? How do we listen well? How do we work in healthy ways with difference and conflict? How do we bring discernment into business? Can we actually even bring the practices of discernment into business?
The following is an excerpt from an article on the paradigm out of which Pope Francis operates; a paradigm very different from the approach so many of us are very used to: somebody higher up in the hierarchy makes a decision and our task is to implement it. Tell us what to do and we will do it. So, the author of the article I’m referencing can write, “…The previous two Popes made decisions the rest of the Church was expected to implement…” It’s a truism, but its not just true of the Catholic Church.
Just prior to typing this I had been engaging with a documentary on economics; on the increasing disparity between the “haves” and the “have not’s” (for Kiwi readers, the documentary was in the very good Nigel Latta TV series Nigel Latta(see TV1 on demand, here). How do we make practical sense of the information we are given in a show like this? How do we engage widely (i.e. collectively), creatively, intelligently, imaginatively, courageously and passionately to the challenges of creating a different economic paradigm?
I need others to read the signs of the times. I know I don’t need sameness. I know I need to join with others, in all their richness and diversity, to wisely attend to my own micro-challenges and those of the wider macro-context, of which I am a part.
“…Discernment is necessary if one is going to read the signs of the times. It is no secret that the Catholic Church faces major problems that need to be assessed and responded to in an appropriate way. An appropriate response is not simply to change everything in order to “get with the times”. On the other hand an appropriate response may also not be simply reaffirming everything as it has been. A process of discernment should empower the Church to assess critically where things are and how, at this time, it could and should respond. Maybe change is necessary – maybe things need tweaking.
And, it is not unusual for there to be many different ideas and some ‘messiness’ when one does embark upon a process of communal discernment. This should not give rise to anxiety and defense – which leads to division – but rather a sense that there really is something that needs to be carefully discerned which is critical for the future.
[Pope] Francis has opted for a “Jesuit way of proceeding”. This is rooted in the teachings of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. To discern means to engage in a process of trying to discover the will or desire of God in a given situation. Discernment includes a time of reflection, prayer, talking, listening, some division, and even some debate so that different perspectives can emerge. At the opening of the recent Synod, the Pope asked all present to speak boldly and listen with openness – two key concepts in communal discernment…”