Deep to on High: Traveling the Way of the River

A Wiccan priestess/UU minister transplanted from Central Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon, helping those who seek intimacy with the One Who is Many—Male, Female, Both, and Neither—through ritual, seasonal observance, mythology, divination, and examination of current events.

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Discernment: The Desire of Our Hearts

One of the most important piece of my work as I accompany people on their spiritual journeys is companioning travelers, seekers, and retreatants through discernment. 

What Do I Mean by Discernment?

Discernment may mean many things. One is simply that quality of being a "discerning" person. That is to say, being wise, knowing how to sift through the chaff of life to find the life-giving grain, and able to make good choices where there seem to be only a multitude of bad choices or only various good ones.

That definition does not encompass all that I mean, however. 

Discernment, in my professional and priestessing world, is a process, a way, an almost formal technique for choosing "among goods." When you don't know which way to turn, but you know a way is there... When you don't know what to do, but you nonetheless feel a tug or a push... When you know you're called to something but don't know I to respond... That is where discernment comes in. 

A Little Catholic Commentary for You

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (more commonly called the Jesuits), said this:  "The will of God is written in the deepest desires of our hearts."

Now, I reckon I don't hold with his idea of "will of God," but my beliefs nonetheless do have some things in common with his statement

  1. The deepest desires of our hearts are important, they matter in the context of discernment;
  2. In fact, the deepest desires of our hearts coincide with our own Will, that deepest and yet highest manifestation of our response to Divine Call;
  3. We have the opportunity to perceive a Call from the Divine and Call back to It, to God Herself, to Them, to the One and Many Who Are Male, Female, Both, and Neither;
  4. Finding that Will, perceiving that Call, is a matter of finding the deepest desires of our hearts.



Being Willing to Go Deep

In order to discern where we will go, what we will choose, or to whom we will draw closer, we must learn from the deepest desires of our hearts. 

And note -- deepest desires. 

Money is important. It helps us sustain ourselves and our families. Fulfillment in our work is important. It helps us sustain ourselves and our families. So if one job has more of one than the other does, how do we decide? How does duty play in the deepest desires of our hearts?—and know that it may, and that it's more than okay for duty to come into play. As Pagans, I think we often think, "Oh, take the counter-cultural road! Take the "road less traveled." Take the road that will make you happy!"

But "happy" is not the whole picture.

You must go deeper than "happy."

Whom to Ask and How

When I am in discernment, I do what Ignatius recommends:  I pray. I pray and pray and pray. Not in a petition to get what I think I want, but for my wants, my deepest desires to come to the surface and be made clearer to me. 

That I may be laid upon the forge of Brighid's smiths and created into the shape of my deepest, highest self. Even if the process be fiery, be painful, be back and forth from fire to water, that I may never stop looking for my deepest desires, for my most powerful Will.

When I am in discernment, I use divinatory tools. I watch fort synchronicity. I listen and watch for the animals in my path. I pay attention to the season. And I pull cards and read them. 

But I cannot be my only source of interior wisdom. There are others who know me well. 

When I am in discernment, I talk with my wife, with my best friend, with my spiritual director, and with my therapist. I consider what they have to say and how that jives with how I feel. 

The important thing there, though, is to avoid "polling." Others, even (sometimes especially) those who love you best have their own agendas, their own will/Will, and their own hopes and dreams. They  are variously clear-sighted, variously wise on their own, variously discerning themselves. But nonetheless, I speak with them. 

Penultimately, I work consistently with someone. That spiritual director I mentioned is not just someone I talk with once and leave after one meeting. They are someone with whom I dive deeply, with whom I try to dig the wells that reach the life-giving spring of Divine love. 

And last of all, before making a decision, I pray. I pray and pray as I have done throughout. In my own practice, I pray that I may have greater and greater awareness of the God Herself who lives within me, gives me life, will give me death, and in whose image I am made.

May your own discernment go well. May the cards illuminate your way. May you perceive what is wise in others' speech. And above all, may you always feel the kiss of the Divine as close as breath. With love from the Way of the River—Catharine


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I am an initiated priestess in the tradition of Stone Circle Wicca, and began my Pagan studies in 1990. I have led rituals for thousands of people, in ceremonies as large as 400 in a Circle of Standing Stones under dozens of branching oaks and tulip poplars, and in rituals as small as a couple of folks in a living room. I am an affiliated UU minister with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, GA. I also provide spiritual direction—what I call spiritual accompaniment or sacred conversation—and have for over 15 years. Over that time, I have been with individual people of many faiths and none as they explored, encountered, and shared their relationships with the Divine. You are welcome to my spiritual accompaniment page for a fuller invitation.  


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