Discernment starts with the understanding that God is deeply concerned for us, and constantly communicating with us through our thoughts and feelings, and through the phenomenal world. This basic assumption unfolds into the realization that everything I am flows generously from God, which leads me to ask God for what I need, and offer what I am, with increasing confidence. I don’t ask for physical things – rather, I continually ask for spiritual graces, which arrive as qualities of mind, images, feelings, and specific insights that help me to proceed in peace, and allow me to make choices that are in tune with my true nature, which is of God. God is love, wisdom, freshness, authenticity, creativity, compassion, humor, wonder, and simplicity. There are not enough words to describe God’s goodness, which moves through me with all the resonances above. We call this movement “the true spirit.”
As I pay attention to my feeling and reasoning, I begin to realize that there is also a dynamic, or quality of spirit, that disrupts this mutual flow of goodness between God and me. The thoughts, feelings, and choices that arise when I am under the influence of this spirit are not like God – they create anxiety, resentment, excessive fear, clinging, rage, shame, self-obsession, dryness, stress, and exhaustion. There are a legion of feelings, thoughts, and states of mind that can manifest in this way. In the present day we call this dynamic “the false spirit.” The false spirit, in apparent opposition to the true spirit, also flows through me continually, except that instead of encouraging and strengthening my integrity, it holds me back from being who I am truly called to be by God.
The key to discernment is learning how to recognize the true spirit and the false spirit at work in me, and to make choices and take actions guided by the true spirit. The point is not to get rid of the false spirit, but to get to know it so well that I am less and less beguiled by its tricks. I cultivate the human “homing instinct” for God. And in the Jesuit Novitiate of Mary, the Mother of God, my interior work is to live a life completely focused on this discernment, with the purpose of doing what God prompts me to do in both the little and the large.
Discernment is both a method and an art that develops over a lifetime. It is a way of life.