As a spirituality nerd, I love to read books and articles on the subject—always with an eye toward making the whole thing more approachable, both for myself and for those who come to me for spiritual direction.
Take these three definitions by the theologian Joann Wolski Conn, for example:
Spirituality is understood as a contemporary philosophical and psychological as well as religious term. Philosophers speak of our human spirituality as our capacity for self-transcendence, a capacity demonstrated in our ability to know the truth, to relate to others lovingly, and to commit ourselves freely to persons and ideals. Psychologists sometimes use the term for that aspect of personal essence that gives a person power, energy, and motive force. Religious persons speak of spirituality as the actualization of human self-transcendence by whatever is acknowledged as the ultimate or the Holy, that is, by whatever is considered religious.
Okay, so maybe they aren’t the simplest of definitions, but the do offer some direction. It’s helpful for me to understand that spirituality can be explored from philosophical, psychological, or a religious perspective. (In spiritual direction, we may, at one time or another, explore all three.)
And just as there’s a range of perspectives about what spiritual is, there’s also a spectrum of how spirituality functions in our lives, especially when it comes to making decisions. Discernment is the word we use when we engage in the decision-making process from a spiritual perspective.
In their book Spiritual Discovery: A Method for Discernment in Small Groups and Congregations, Catherine C. Tran and Sandra Hughes Boyd offer a down-and-dirty yet extremely useful take on four paradigms “people bring…that shape their process of discernment.”
Some are confident that God has a specific and detailed plan for each and every person. For them, discernment is about discovering God’s plan and then doing their best to align their decisions with that plan. Others believe that God has a broad hope and vision for them. They discern by relying on scripture or advice from a wise elder. These are examined in the light of common sense, personal desires and interests, with the goal of shaping a plan that is consistent with what they understand to be God’s broad hope and vision for them. Others seek an intimate relationship with God in order that their sense or knowledge of God will lead to decision-making that is in accord with God’s individual desire for them. Still others are guided in their discernment by certain overarching values, such as love or harmony, and they will seek to shape their decisions in conformity with those values.
I love that their view of discernment (like Conn’s view of spirituality) makes room for both those who believe in God and those who don’t. I also can see how these paradigms can help someone find out where they might fall on a spectrum of spirituality.
Here’s how. Those who have a more conservative spirituality are probably more concerned about discovering God’s plan as part of the discernment process. And those on the more progressive side of the spectrum are more likely to be concerned about remaining true to their highest values. And somewhere in between are those who believe that God desires certain things for themselves and humanity in general.
These are pretty broad strokes, of course. But they give some direction when it comes to the discernment process. If you’re interested in learning more about where you might fit in on the spirituality spectrum and how that might influence your decision-making process, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me.
Here’s a quick and easy way to get the ball rolling. Just fill out the form below and answer the single question quiz. I’ll get back to you about where you might fit on the spirituality spectrum.