Book notes: Book helps discerners of all types hear God’s voice amid the noise

Book notes: Book helps discerners of all types hear God’s voice amid the noise

By c

I love hearing the vocation stories of my elder sisters, in particular how they first tuned in to God’s call and discovered our community. In many stories, the sister first discovered an inkling of a call in prayer or service, which she then discussed with her pastor or a wise friend who gave her a brochure or suggested she visit the sisters. Other stories revolve around personal relationships with our sisters, either through family connections or our ministries. A few more are unexpected, such as the sister who accompanied a friend to a vocation retreat for moral support, only to find her own heart pulled toward religious life instead. Each story is unique, but the vast majority took place in a 20th century context, in the midst of a decidedly Catholic culture that supported the call.

While I often ask my sisters about their call, they are equally curious about mine, which they suspect to be quite different. Indeed, in my 21st century story my first contact with the community was via our website. Nonetheless our stories have much in common. While I explored communities online, it was a conversation with my pastor that first opened me to the possibility of the unexpected path that now gives my life such meaning, joy and hope.

Filtering out the noise

It seems to me that what makes contemporary vocation stories most distinct from those of my elder sisters is not the mechanics but the context of the call. Many young women and men discerning a religious vocation today do not have personal relationships with religious sisters, brothers or priests. Unless they were raised in a very devout family, they most likely have never been invited to consider religious life as a viable option.

Moreover, our secular culture, with its cornucopia of value-neutral options (think of how many channels are on your television set) makes it challenging to filter through all of the noise and tune in to God’s call. For the most part, our 21st century reality lacks the spiritual and cultural context to help young adults sort through the mix of thoughts, feelings, dreams, worries and desires that is vocational discernment.

I wonder if the particular vocational challenge of our era isn’t just this—how to filter out the cacophony of voices that interfere with our ability to listen deeply to God’s call. This is especially true for young men and women considering the unexpected call to religious life. Father Andrew Carl Wisdom, OP and Sister Christine Kiley, ASCJ provide a helpful tool to help filter out the noise in Tuning in to God’s Call (Ligouri, 2012). Tuning In is not a how-to-guide or a Discernment 101 textbook. Rather it is spiritual reading that gently provides the reader with a mix of prayer, reflection and action prompts centered on discernment.

Organized into five parts, Tuning In introduces the reader to the various building blocks of tuning in to God’s call, from the what, why and how of discernment to the fruits and signs of a good discernment. Each part is divided into discrete sections— many of which might well stand alone for a discussion or faith sharing group—with a Scripture passage, brief reflection, quote, action prompt and prayer. The authors draw from the rich well of Catholic tradition, including Scripture, insights from saints, and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Many reflections include real life vocation and personal stories that help make the abstract real. Wisdom and Kiley immerse the reader in a spiritual and cultural context that orients him or her along the roller coaster ride of discernment.

The end result is an accessible book that is grounded in the Catholic tradition but doesn’t hit readers over the head with the enormity of what they might be discerning. While the overall direction of the book is toward a religious vocation, the authors also invite readers to seriously consider whether they might be called to marriage or an intentional single life instead. The authors make it clear that each of these vocations is a call to holiness and an invitation to discover how our story best fits into the overarching story of God.

Action-oriented and holistic

While Tuning In does not overwhelm the reader, the authors do encourage the reader to move from a state of perpetual discernment to some sort of decision. One way the authors accomplish this is through the short action prompts included in each section. I suspect that young adults will find many of these actions both doable and fruitful. In fact, more than one of the book’s suggestions mirrored some of the more helpful parts of my own vocation discernment process.

There is something here for everyone. Some discerners will be drawn by the invitation to sit in adoration before the Holy Eucharist, placing their desires on the altar before God. Thinkers may draw insights from an opportunity to make a list of their top five priorities and reflect on how that impacts their relationship to God and their call. Multi-taskers might be called to slow down through the exercise of “wasting time” with God in prayer. Extroverts will no doubt gain insights from the suggested conversations with a friend about faith and call. The techno-savvy discerner will be able to make room for God’s data in their discernment through a technology fast. The wide variety of prompts will help the 21st century discerner break through all the noise and tune in to God’s call.

I especially appreciated that these action prompts come within the context of Scripture, wisdom sayings of saints, reflection and prayer. This is a holistic approach that I believe will also help readers develop a regular practice of prayer and spiritual reflection, if they do not already have one. Wisdom and Kiley draw upon a wealth of resources that provide a healthy and holistic representation of Catholic spirituality. They include insights from the best of the traditional and progressive aspects of our faith, as well as everything in between. As I prayed my way through the book, I found myself resonating with some aspects more than others. Yet I could also see how they might be deeply meaningful for others. Vocation ministers should feel comfortable recommending this book to serious discerners on any spot on the Catholic spectrum.

This is not a book to be read in one sitting or assigned for a reflection paper. Rather, each section should be savored, one or two at a time, with breaks for reflection and action. Some readers might skip a section or two, only to return to it later on their journey. No vocational discernment is the same, and the flexibility of this book allows readers to spend more time on aspects that are more pertinent to them at that moment, while also inviting them to consider elements around which they might have more resistance.

While it is geared towards those in active discernment, vocation ministers might also gain some insights from Tuning In. For example the action prompts and prayers could easily be adapted for a variety of purposes. The main audience of the book, however, is those embarking on a vocation discernment journey themselves. As promised by the authors, Tuning In discerns along with them, inviting them to take unexpected turns and even stop from time to time to take stock, open their hearts, and listen for the voice of God in the midst of the noise of daily life.

 

Sister Susan Rose Francois, CSJP recently professed perpetual vows with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She is a graduate student at Catholic Theological Union and is a member of the national core team for Giving Voice. Prior to entrance, Sister Susan served as the city elections officer in Portland, Oregon. Her blog is Musings of a Discerning Woman (www. actjustly.blogspot.com).

 



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