By the time you read this, we will have been social distancing and quarantining for almost two months already. Schools have been stopped, work for non-essential personnel is halted, restaurants are only serving takeout menus, errands are limited to groceries or medical purposes, and online video conferencing is the norm for any gathering involving people other than those you live with. Everyone’s days, unless you are a front liner or staying at home with one or a few more kids, are quieter, slower, and less filled. It has been said that the coronavirus, as undesirable as it is for everyone on the planet, has gifted some of us with the opportunity to catch up with our to-do lists or even just a chance to sit and be. And for those who have things stirring in their hearts and questions that they are searching answers for, this could also be the gift of discernment time.
I sat outside on one of these early quarantine mornings relishing the sounds of the birds and the wind gently touching the leaves of the trees. With questions in my own heart, I thought about the phenomenal women and men who mentored me as a child, as a young adult and as a woman religious. Many times, when I get stuck in my own discernment, their stories come to me and I am filled with hope that there will be clarity and strength for me to follow God’s whispering just as there was for them. I look to their lives for guidance, for wisdom and for assurance on the journey. I paused in the middle of my thoughts and suddenly became more aware that though our paths are all together beautiful, valuable and inextricably intertwined, we are still asked to discern the unique path that is ours to walk. At some point, beyond but also because of the love and guidance of those who cared about them, these men and women who inspired me were able to take courage to trust their own self and follow where their hearts, their deep self in God, was leading them to.
The discernment and choices of the people in our lives helped bring us in one way or another to where we are. But at the same time, I hope we also arrive at the insight that there are personal crossroads for each person to choose and tread. There are times in life when our discernment calls us to be brave and carve the path that God is asking us – specifically us – to walk. This can feel uncomfortable and even fearful because we have no blueprint for what we are doing. We’d rather just follow what those who went before us did. But Joseph Campbell reminds us well, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your own path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) recently released a reflection booklet on discernment entitled, “You Will Have Light for Your First Steps.” On one of the very first pages is the poem “Trasna” from Presentation Sister Raphael Consedine. The last stanza reads:
While you search your heart’s yearnings:
What am I seeking? What is my quest?
When your star rises within,
Trust yourself to its leading.
You will have light for your first steps.
It could be quite scary to take steps towards where we feel somewhat alone. But with the wisdom, love and support that we received from those who went before and those who are with us still, we never are. Let us pray for and be open to receive the gift of trusting ourselves – the selves that walk with God and are never abandoned. Then, with confidence, may we open our eyes to the light and take our own first steps towards that unique path of our hearts’ desires.