How does one start to unfold the many possibilities that a book like Discernment Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen conjures up? Especially when it comes to putting it into practice in a place like London and Oxford. A place of which my only experience is based on books that I have read; TV and news shows that I have viewed or a few surface conversations I have had with people. A place that is full of history, as well as, a place that has seen centuries of change. A place that is familiar yet foreign.
The challenging premise of Nouwen’s book to see how God is active in all of life is easier stated than achieved. “Spiritual discernment is hearing a deeper sound beneath the noise of ordinary life and seeing through appearances to the interconnections of all things, to gain a vision of how things hang together.” I say this is often easier stated than achieved because it requires me to step away from my own heuristic bias and be open to new processes and broader definition of understanding. We all have our own thought processes and patterns that allow us to make snap judgements and reduce the risks of our choices. In many cases these thought processes serve us well. But when facing new experiences, one must be willing to look “beneath the noise of ordinary life”. Change and growth are two sides of the same coin. To do what you’ve always done and expect a different result is the definition of insanity not discernment. That is often why I tend to look for common ground with people as a foundational jumping off point. Hearing and experiencing the heart of God in subtle uncommon new ways as part of this journey is an exciting possibility.
Stepping out of a world controlled by clock time especially with the many events that are scheduled in both London and Oxford will be a challenge. Nouwen rightly expresses that “time becomes a burden unless we convert it into God’s time.” Time is a human constraint that often becomes an unforgiving dictator. As a coach I play down the concept of time management and balance for the concept of harmony and life management. I have never met anyone who can create or control time short of God. To me balance is more an assessment of value that often doesn’t represent the reality that many of the things that compete for our time are not of equal value. On the other hand, things can be out of balance in life but totally harmonious with God’s plan and purposes. Finding God’s intended purpose for me during this journey cannot be discovered without seeing every moment as an opportunity to see God’s divine purpose first. There are exciting possibilities that come with seeing this journey through God’s time frame. Learning goes beyond the head and travels to the heart. Though only a distance of 18 inches the journey from head to heart can in some cases take a long time. I believe it is here where God will expand and broaden my understanding of His call on my life.
One of my favorite studies when taking Hebrew was the Shema. The central focus of the Jewish prayer time focused on Deuteronomy 6:4 frame. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Nouwen’s concept of discernment in many ways is a form of the Shema. Like Israel we are called to recognize that we have a personal God. We are called to love Him with all our heart, all our soul and all our might. We are called to obey His commands. The concept of teaching, talking and living our beliefs on a daily basis is as vital to the Shema as it is to discernment. Just as Israel was called to see life through God’s time frame, we as well are challenged through Nouwen’s Discernment to see life through God’s time frame.
In a broader concept what comes to mind is a sense of legacy. In many ways as I walk through life with friends and family, read the scriptures and study I am often surprised by the legacies that have been left behind. Whether discussing the Shema as the foundational instructions for life or the call to living a life of discernment I believe the hope is one of leaving a legacy. London and Oxford are places of legacy. While reading Sullivan’s The Secret History of Oxford it wasn’t the obvious rich history that occupied my mind. It was the legacy that has been established through the lives of those who attended there over the centuries, as well as, the lives they in turn touched. In some small way I can hope that through this trip to London and Oxford I can become part of the legacy that was established through the centuries of growth and change. And is some small way I pray I can pass part of this legacy along.
So how does one start to unfold the many possibilities that a book like Henri Nouwen’s Discernment Reading the Signs of Daily Life conjure up? For fear of sounding overly simplistic I can only unfold them humbly one day at a time. When these possibilities have the ability to unfold the eternal heart of God the concept of holy ground comes to mind. Nouwen’s advice to start with “listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desires” is a good place to start.
 Nouwen, Henri. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. New York. Harper One. 2013. viii
 A heuristic is simply a mental shortcut that we adopt through our lives that enables us to make quick decisions and solve problems. The risk is we tend to assume that if this short cut works for one decision it will work for every decision thus, we become cognitively bias. (http://verywellminded.com/what-is-a-heuristic-2795235)
 Nouwen, 84 (Nouwen does a good job explaining the difference between chronos and kairos)
 Nouwen, xv