SP 2499 Art of Discernment

Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction
January 2002
Elizabeth Liebert, instructor

Required Texts

Note:  Remember that the courses move along at a rapid clip in January.  It is crucial to read these materials prior to the January term.  The annotations suggest ways to help you relate the reading to class, and indicate where it is not necessary to read the entire book.

Farnham, Suzanne, et. al.  Listening Hearts:  Discerning Call in Community.  Revised Edition.  Harrisburg, PA:  Morehouse,  1991. This book serves two purposes: (1) a reflective and meditative introduction to the general notion of discernment, suitable for group study in a church setting.  Read the main body of the book in the style of spiritual reading, slowly chewing and pondering.  (2) Appendices 1 and 2 will guide our work with Clearness Committees (along with a short article by Parker Palmer that will be given out in class).  Skim these pages.

Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. George E. Ganss.  Classics of Western Spirituality.  New York:  Paulist Press, 1991.  Before January, read the Autobiography, pp. 65-120.  Pay special attention to what and how Ignatius discovered what God desired of him.  Highlight the notable examples in the margins or list separately (put a paragraph # if you use this method so that you can find the place in the text).  What is your reaction to this list?  What surprised you?  What questions does it evoke? Please bring this volume with you to the January session, as we will use portions of the Spiritual Exercises in class.

Johnson, Luke.  Scripture and Discernment:  Decision-Making in the Church.  Nashville:  Abingdon, 1996.  You might begin with Chapter 6.  Then circle back and see how Johnson gets there through his theological commitments and biblical exegesis.  After reading, think through your biblical understandings of discernment, aware that these will vary among ecclesial communities and among individual discerners.  As a spiritual director, you need to be self conscious of your own assumptions about the role of scripture in discernment.

McDermott, Gerald R.  Seeing God:  Twelve Reliable Signs of True Spirituality. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995.  An introduction to Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections by an evangelical scholar.  Take a recent spiritual experience (however defined) of your own or of one of your directee’s, and see how these “reliable and unreliable signs” (be careful about these terms!)  help you assess this religious experience.

Mc Kinney, Mary Benet.  Sharing Wisdom:  A Process for Group Decision Making. Allen, TX: Thomas Moore, 1996. This book demonstrates how a group can become a discerning community.  How will you have to  adapt the theological perspective, examples and exercises for your situation?  If you don’t have time to read the entire book, concentrate on the Introduction and Chapters 2,4,5,6.  (Charles Olsen’s Transforming Church Boards is the Reformed analogue of McKinney; see recommended reading).

Smith, Gordon T.  Listening to God in Times of Choice:  The Art of Discerning God’s Will.  Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 1997.  A sound general treatment of discernment, again by an evangelical author.

Recommended Reading

Farnham, Suzanne, et. al. Grounded in God:  Listening Hearts Discernment for Group Deliberations.  Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1996.

Lonsdale, David.  Listening to the Music of the Spirit:  The Art of Discernment.  Notre Dame, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1992.  A Jesuit comments on Ignatian discernment.

Olsen, Charles.  Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders.  Washing DC:  Alban Institute, 1995.

Wolff, Pierre.  Discernment:  the Art of Choosing Well.  Ligouri,  MO:  Triumph Books, 1993.  This small volume offers alternative vocabulary useful for the unchurched or for those allergic to religious language.