Aldon Hynes's blog

Rethinking Discernment

I am part of an online group of people seeking discernment about God’s call to each one of us. Many of the people in the group have had difficult discernment processes. As I talk about my own experiences, I find more and more people beyond the group who have had difficult processes. One person asked if any of us had things that happened to us that we wish we could help prevent from happening to others. So far, my process has gone pretty smoothly, but I remain vigilant for the bump in the road.

I started to write a comment, but as I thought about it, it seemed like this would be better as a blog post.

Years ago, friends of mine had a child die during childbirth and we all had difficulty processing the grief. Some other friends were folk musicians, and wrote a song about it. "The fallen that has fallen has given up its sweet perfume..."

If I recall the chorus started, "When every yes is answered, with a no not understood..."

Those of us seeking discernment believe we have been called to something beyond what we are currently doing. Often, it includes the belief that we are being called to the ordained priesthood. It is often with great struggle that we get to the point of being able to say “Yes”.

For many of us, e.e. cummings captured this well in his poem which starts

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

In my process, I often talk about experiences I had when I was younger with very devote people convinced of God’s will for them and for others, who would say to me something that started with a phrase like “God told me to tell you that you should … “

How do you respond to something like this? It finally occurred to me that the best response I could give would be something like, “Praise God! Pray that God tells me the same thing.”

To a certain extent those of us in the discernment process may be seen as saying, “God has told us that we are supposed to become priests”, and the discernment process should be answering, “Praise God! Pray that God tells the community and the church leadership the same thing.”

The problem is, the seeker and the church community may not be hearing the same thing, and we run into difficulties.

The discernment manual for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut suggests using Guidelines for Mutuality as part of the process. These guidelines talk about trying on new things, about how it is okay to disagree, and the importance of both/and thinking.

It seems like this is the real challenge that discernment committees and commissions on ministry need to struggle with when answering the seekers yes with a no not understood. How do we help people who feel called to some sort of ministry that we might not believe are called to ordained priesthood to not hear a “no not understood”, but to hear and accept disagreement, a call to try on something new, a “yes, God is calling you to something special,. Let’s work together to find it, even if it doesn’t include ordination.”

I know that my path is different from that of so many others exploring ordination for many different reasons. We are all seeking to serve in a changing church in a changing world. I look forward to exploring what might be down that path, whether or not it leads to ordination, and I hope that my experiences can be helpful to others, no matter what comes after that initial “Yes!”

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#NaPoWriMo 12: Confession of Murder

This morning
at the close of Morning Prayer,
the bell tolled for Kenneth
and a little bit of me died
after a very long illness.

Kenneth was created in God’s image.
God loved Kenneth
but others did not.
He suffered abuse and neglect
at the hands of his mother’s
hard drinking
violent boyfriends.

That was forty years ago
when the scars
of Jim Crow
were fresher.

What they did to Kenneth
was horrible.
What Kenneth did to Cathy
was worse,
and what the juror said
only compounded it all.

We have not loved
our neighbors as ourselves.
We have failed to offer hope
to those that only find it in a bottle.
We have failed to protect
the children in their care.
We have failed to end
the scourge of racism,
and Cathy died
and now Kenneth dies,
and all of us
die a little bit too.

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#NaPoWriMo 11: The Kidney Stone

After that first wave of pain
was determined to be a kidney stone
friends suggested
I write a poem about it.


As I took pain relievers
drank gallons of fluids
and the symptoms subsided
I wondered,
“Did the stone break apart
and pass secretly
or do my kidneys contain
a ticking time bomb?”

With the stone dormant
my thoughts shifted
to other concerns
family, finances, and politics,
but still the stone remained
in the back of my mind.

This morning
as I doubled over in pain
beside the toilet bowl
I was reminded
of the suffering in the world
and in my kidney.

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#NaPoWriMo 10: Infirmity

I didn’t make it to church today
I tried,
but the pain was too great.

I love the story of Ananias
praying for Saul
in Damascus
and I wondered
whom I was supposed to pray for.

I love the story of Jesus
being reveal to the disciples
in the breaking of bread
after the resurrection
and I wondered
what will be revealed to me

I love the story of Peter
saying “Yes, Lord, I love you”
and being told
to feed the sheep.
Who am I supposed to feed today?

But the pain was too great
so I laid down and rested.
When I awoke
it seemed
I could still make it
if I rushed.

But I couldn’t rush
and before I knew it
church was starting
and I wasn’t ready.

Someone else
can sit in the pew today.
Someone else
can greet the visitor.
Someone else
can taste
the body and blood.
Someone else
can pray for the infirm.

Today, I am the infirm
and others are praying for me.
being a person prayed for
is another way
we can serve God.

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#NaPoWriMo 9: The Rainbow

Off to the east, the sky is still grey,
and it is probably raining
in the next town over.

The road is still wet
and I’ve set the wipers
to intermittent.

The storm has passed
and in the west
the sun is breaking through.

It is too easy to think in binaries;
rain or shine,
black and white,

but in doing so
we sometimes miss
the beauty of the rainbow.

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