Glossary of Terms

Listening Hearts Glossary


What is the role of community in discernment?

Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. -Matt. 18:20

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live as Jesus did: in a community of faith. Something happens to us when we consult one another in Christian community. In sharing our thoughts with others, surprising insights often emerge—opening our eyes to what we have not seen and our ears to what we have not heard. This can transform and liberate us beyond our narrow expectations.

Although God calls each of us personally, as individuals we see only partially.

Another role for community is … to encourage us in our love of God and keep us from becoming conformed to the world … in this company, in the light and presence of Christ, we can see through the sham of wordly values yet share in God’s love for all creation. In this company, we are strengthened to live as God’s people. – Listening Hearts, p 53 – 56

Spiritual Discernment  

What is spiritual discernment?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … – 1 John 4:1

Discernment comes from the Latin word discernere, which means “to separate,” “to distinguish,” “to determine,” “to sort out.” In classical spirituality, discernment means identifying what spirit is at work in a situation: the Spirit of God or some other spirit. Discernment is “sifting through” our interior and exterior experiences to determine their origin.

Discernment helps a person understand the source of a call, to whom it is directed, its content, and what response is appropriate. Discernment also involves learning if one is dodging a call, is deaf to a call, or is rejecting a call.

Discernment is a gift from God. But it also includes an intentional attempt on our part to hear God’s call in our life. It takes work; it is also a matter of grace. It involves our full humanity as well as communion with God. – Listening Hearts, p 23 – 24

Discernment is a focused endeavor to identify the Spirit of God at work, to sense where the Spirit may be pointing, and to hear what God may be saying. Discernment is a type of contemplative prayer. Discernment and decision-making are not synonymous, although discernment normally points toward a decision.

Spiritual discernment incorporates our intellects, but proceeds on the assumption that God’s mind is infinitely greater than ours and God’s perspective is far broader than ours. It is a quest for evidence of and companionship with the Spirit. Spiritual discernment is not synonymous with what might be described as prayerful Christian decision-making. It is that and something more, something much deeper.


What is call?

… let each of you lead the life … to which God called you. – 1 Cor. 7:17

People call us to get our attention, to make contact with us, to draw us closer to them. So it is with God. A call may come as a gradual dawning of God’s purpose for our lives. It can involve an accelerating sense of inner direction. It can emerge through a gnawing feeling that we need to do a specific thing. On occasion, it can burst forth as a sudden awareness of a path that God would have us take … In whatever way call is experienced, through the centuries God has chosen to speak to us and bids us to listen.

God calls each of us. There are a variety of calls, and no one call is inherently better of higher than any other … It is our faithfulness to God and not our station in life that honors a call.

God speaks to us through the language of everyday events. Each new moment in life, each new situation, the present condition of a person or community, of events, time, place, people and circumstances—all hold clues to God’s call. – Listening Hearts, p 7 – 9

Prayerful Listening

How do we listen prayerfully in discernment?

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10

Prayerful listening begins with a reverent heart, one attuned to God’s presence in all that speaks: God present in nature, God present in people – friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. A reverent heart detects God’s voice in friend and foe, success and failure, sunlight and rain.

In prayerful silence we listen with all our senses; the silence is alert, alive, attentive, receptive. This is a specific discipline that is contemplative in nature. It begins at the rational level, but then bids the mind descend into the heart – which in classical spirituality is at the very center of a person’s being. It asks that we be centered in God and listen with all that we are. It takes place not in our heads, but in our depths.