Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Discernment in a Lifelong Journey

Written by: on September 12, 2019

Image by John Hain

As a fan of Henri Nouwen, I already owned “Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.” It was fun to open it back up and re-read my highlights, pondering how they might be prevalent to where I am today.

It’s hard for me to separate discernment of my travel to London without including why I am going to be there. I will be in London because I was accepted into a doctorate program and chose this track of study. Having finished a Spiritual Formation degree recently, it might make more sense for me to choose a different track, but that wouldn’t make sense for who I am. Integrating different cultures into my studies make sense for me.

I also happen to be a fan of Parker Palmer so I love that Nouwen included a quote of his, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am” (97). This has been my lifelong question. Who am I and what does that have to do with my life as it is now? Ultimately, I realize that I became a Life Coach and Spiritual Director because of that one question, but the core of who I am is an artist. I have been a graphic designer/art director for many years and then entered into bible college and my life took a turn. But did it? That’s what I’ve learned in my seminary experience. Maybe that was the greater plan all along. Maybe that’s why I sense God’s whisper of art theologian. I have no idea how this will turn out, but I’m open.

It is this quote that stopped me in my tracks, “God has a very special role for you to fulfill. God wants you to stay close to his heart and let him guide you. You will know what you are called to do when you have to know it” (99). How do I approach London without discerning who I am and getting out of my head? Rosa Parks said it so eloquently, “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” A few years ago, I visited the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, WA and had the pleasure and honor of sitting next to the Acting President, Derek McNeil. I didn’t know his role before entering into a conversation with him. I mentioned that I was an artist that wanted to make sense of theology as an artist, especially as a biracial woman. He responded gently, “Your role is so needed. It is a marginalized role and it is not an easy journey, but the Church needs artists.” It’s always fascinated me how God always drops a person into my path at the right time to impart words that I need to hear. It was the charge that I needed to move forward.

The blessing that Nouwen gave, “I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you” (135) was so touching. This benediction is something I hope for myself and each of my cohort mates knows and understands. I also pray that everyone in London and beyond knows that they are special and deeply loved by God.

As I step into my true identity as the Beloved and a woman who is also a life learner, I trust that although I wrestled with God about being here, I am meant to be here. I also take with me Nouwen’s words of look, stay and share as I continue to discern my journey. As I pray and marinate on how my time in London will shape me and how I can be culturally sensitive, I hope that I will be reminded to look for, stay present and share – not just by talking but by being present. I share by being present.

As I venture into space and time held for my cohort and others to convene, I ask God to open my heart, ears and eyes to see what I am meant to see and hear. It is no mistake that this group of people have been appointed to this cohort for this time. There is no way for me to discern how each of us got to say “yes” to a doctorate program other than God is with me (and us) and knows what I need in order to be challenged and loved, all in one.

This blessing from “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings” by John O’Donohue is titled A New Beginning (13-14). I hope it blesses others as it opens my heart to God in this season.

“In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.


For a long time it has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.


It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this.


Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,

A path of plenitude opening before you.


Though your destination is not yet clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.


Awaken your spirit to adventure;

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”


About the Author

Nancy Blackman

12 responses to “Discernment in a Lifelong Journey”

  1. Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Nancy, thank you for your care and insight.

    Remembering who you are sticks out for me too. Recently, there has been a bit of a shake up in my life. A calling to remember who I am originally. A Love that is ‘deeper than the rejecting self’ that encourages living, thriving from ‘the place of rebirth’.

    Thank you for sharing the blessing of John O’Donahue. So appropriate. I receive it.

    Art Theologian. God bless you with sweet discernment as this call is worked out beautifully and perfectly in your life.

    Parker Palmer, what a sweet author too. Slowly getting through ‘A Hidden Wholeness’,

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      Hidden Wholeness is a very intimate book for me too. Enjoy the journey.

      Sorry to hear about the shake up in your life — I pray that God is meeting you and holding you, but more importantly, that you recognize it and lean into it.

      Thanks for your kind words,

  2. Greg Reich says:

    Nancy an artisan core is fantastic. A spiritual gift that is often neglected and misunderstood in my opinion. Having a father that was a highly gifted craftsman as well as 2 brothers that are highly gifted and talented craftsman as well I am reminded of Exodus 36 “Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all the LORD has commanded.” I see that in the Kingdom of God there are things only artisans are called and commanded to accomplish for His glory. It appears to me you are a blessed and much needed member of the body. Could it be that part of your discernment process is discovering the commands of God through your art and sharing it with the community?

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      Yes, you nailed it! I am discerning how I fit in as an artist. I never believed that artisans were “allowed” to be a part of the community. They stand on the margins and fill in the gaps.

      It is in the past few years that I have realized that my art is how God created me and I need to use it to bless God’s Name. So, that’s why I’m here. I’m figuring it out.

      Thanks so much for your encouragement.

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    Nancy, can I step out on a limb and try to encourage you? I’ve seen you half-jesting about not belonging, but this is dynamite. You are (part of) God’s provision for me in this season. I’m so glad that Derek McNeil was able to speak so powerfully to you. He was right. Did you include that encounter in your Mindfulness section of our assignment for next week?

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      You can step out onto any limb and encourage me. I will listen with the best holy ears that I possibly can. Now I’m curious what the “half-jesting” is. I am humbled that I would be God’s provision for you in this season, but thankful. I do feel that God has appointed this group of people for this time.

      Mindfulness section: working on it, but thanks for the help with my brainstorming!


  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    Nancy! This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing some of the road that has brought you here. I agree, this group is divinely formed for this time in space. As one who was an artist going up, I am slowly rediscovering who I am. Those passions and gifts were cast aside simply because they weren’t “practical ways to make a living.”

    I really look forward to hearing more about how you hope to incorporate art into your project! A new reformation is at hand. That which was tossed aside and burned is being resurrected from the ashes. God is raising up artists and poets and contemplatives in new and purposeful ways to bring healing to God’s people and reconciliation to broken systems. Keep listening to that sweet whisper of Love that is directing your path. I’m honored to watch and see where it leads!

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      I also hope to hear how your art journey unfolds as you reacquant and are renewed by the love of art.

      And, thank you for the kind words of encouragement.


  5. John McLarty says:

    When we were kids on the playground and choosing up teams for some game, the “captains” would always first pick their best friends and those they perceived to be the best athletes. People still have a tendency to this in the various places they are when given the opportunity.

    Yet, as I look at our cohort in the beginning stages of this journey, I’m reminded once again at how God often places people in our midst that we need around us. You said, “I am meant to be here” and that resonates on many levels- what you will accomplish/create through this program; how you will shape the work of others in the cohort; how others will shape your work, etc.

    We can’t know right now what that will look like and it’s impossible to imagine what we might have missed without it, but to trust and let God move in this- the people, the conversations, the readings, etc.- will open the door to our greatest learning. As someone who usually needs some time to get comfortable with new people in new situations, I am grateful for the reminder to appreciate those whom God “picks” for the teams I’m on.

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      “We can’t know right now what that will look like and it’s impossible to imagine what we might have missed without it, but to trust and let God move in this- the people, the conversations, the readings, etc.- will open the door to our greatest learning.” Such great words of wisdom!

      Since I’ve already been through a cohort model at PDX Seminary, and was a part of an amazing cohort, I do know that the people that surrounded me, and still do today, opened my soul to a greater learning. As you already know and have stated, it isn’t just the professors and administrators who will have an influence on our academic journey.

      Thanks John,

  6. Jer Swigart says:


    Your story about Derek McNeil illuminated so beautifully what I think Nouwen is saying about discerning in the context of human relationship/interaction. And…it brought into focus an encounter I had with a neighbor this week. After sharing with me some of the organizational focusing work that he and his team have been giving themselves to recently, he said: “I guess we’re just getting really clear on what we’re good at. We’re going to do that and not much else.” It was exactly what I needed to hear to get unstuck from something personally and professionally. As I’ve since pondered the moment and as I read your post, Nouwen’s conviction that God inhabits the unexpected in order to invite us into sacred possiblities is becoming my own.

  7. Nancy Blackman says:

    ““I guess we’re just getting really clear on what we’re good at. We’re going to do that and not much else.”” Years ago I worked at a flower shop and the owner was and still is very adept at observing people and placing them where he felt they would be the most valuable for the operation of his shop. He seemed to nail it every time. And what he received in return was a well-oiled machine, which is very much needed during busy holiday seasons. Pair that with the sacred and I think when we are able to discern with God where we are meant to be and what we are meant to be doing in a particular season, we hit what I like to refer as our ‘sweet spot.’


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