Saying “Yes” and Other Daily Doses of Discernment: a book review

There are a number of books  about spiritual discernment, evidenced by the shelf-full of books I own on discovering and discerning the will of God in times of choice. What sets Albert Haase’s Saying Yes apart from some of these, is his desire to set discernment within a larger frame than that decision-making-angst we feel when we are at a major crossroad. According to Haase, this book “highlights in a singular way that authentic Christian discernment requires daily listening to the megaphone God uses to communicate with us: the nitty-gritty of everyday life” (ix).

Albert Haase, OFM, is an ordained Franciscan priest, a preacher, teacher, spiritual director, and former missionary to mainland China.  While his vocation is with the Franciscans, and he has plenty of examples of what discernment has looked like for him in that context, he draws broadly on the Christian tradition of discernment. He synthesizes patristic wisdom and Ignatian insights and the margins are peppered with quotations from Christian spiritual writers.  This short book designed to help all Christian’s pursue God’s dream for their life.

The body of this book is only ninty-five pages long, but in six pithy chapters Haase has a great deal of wisdom to impart. In chapter one, Haase describes God’s dream of the Kingdom–the rule and reign of Christ.  Instead of treating discernment as the ‘one right path for your life,’ Haase describes it as a daily deciding to ‘say yes’ to God’s dream, “Discernment is a cooperative venture of discovering my unique contribution–my evolving and deeper yes–to being  coworker with Christ in making God’s dream of the kingdom a reality right here right now” (7). We are guided in our apprehension of God’s dream of the Kingdom and our contribution  by six lamps of Revelation–Sacred Scripture, Jesus the Word made flesh, Sacred Tradition, participation in the community called Church,  the sacraments, and personal prayer (10-13).

Chapter two describes ‘ten attitudes for discernment.’ These include listening to the events of our life, an openness to peripheral possibilities, a wholehearted openness to whatever God wants to do through us, a letting go of the baggage of ego attachments, a focus on God’s dream, patience for God’s timing, an awareness of what our own personal desires tells us, a balance between head and heart, and a willingness to listen to God in community.

Chapter three describes the heart of discernment: listening.  Haase says if we are to discern what God wants us to do with our life, we ought  to listen to our past, our hunches and intuitions, our physical body, our imagination, our reason, our feelings, our dreams, to creation, to people,  to the present moment, and to helpful questions. Cultivating awareness of what God may be saying to us in each of these areas in the light of God’s revelation, allows us to see where God may be calling us.

In chapter four, Haase switches from describing the source material for proper discernment and focuses on its practice . This chapter takes us beyond ‘commitment discernement’ (discernment about the big decisions in life) to the  practice of discern ing God’s dream for the day-to-day:

It is less of a specific practice and more of an attitude and orientation that permeates the routines of daily life. Unlike commitment discernment which occurs at the crossroads in life and has the drama of a drum-roll associated with it, ongoing discernment occurs at the kitchen sink and has FM music playing in the background. It’s a stance of mindfulness. (50).

Haase suggests regular practices which keep us mindful and awake to God’s dream for us: the daily check in–prayer in morning, noon and night where we ask what God is calling us to and how he is using us,  the practice of ‘praying the news,’  lectio divina, weekly worship attendance, spiritual direction. retreats, journaling and writing a rule of life.

Chapter five focuses on ‘discerning the designs of the devil.’ Haase looks especially at the ways Satan leads people astray, through the lens of Galations 5 and Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of it (with Haase correcting Peterson in a couple of places). Haase adds to Paul’s list acedia and the experience of desolation. Chapter six explores the ways we wrestle with God in the area of discernment and fail to follow though on the lifestyle He’s calling us to. Haase helps us process our internal resistance to ‘saying yes to God’ through a cultivated awareness, prayers of lament and the grace of acceptance of pain. A short appendix collects various prayers for Discernment in the Christian tradition.


 

This is a really useful guide to discernment, one that is helpful to me now, but could also have imparted insight to me at different stages of my faith journey. This may be a good gift for graduation for those facing major life transitions. But the focus on daily life makes it apt for everyone.

One of the things I really appreciate about Haase is the ways in which he calls us to attend to the circumstances of our life, ‘with an ear to the ground not the clouds’ (18). He expects God to reveal his dream for us, not as divine directive from on high but in a much more organic way. This means that there is no one-size-fits all approach to discernment but each person’s history, experience, shape and desires causes them to intersect God’s kingdom dream in unique ways. For example, Haase mentions dreams as something we ought to listen to, but says:

I don’t recommend buying or reading books on dream symbol interpretations, because most dream symbols are highly personalized: everything in a dream is about you or some aspect of your personality or situation; even when you are dreaming about other people, you are dreaming about some aspect of yourself that you associate with them.

This steers dream interpretation away from preoccupation with Jungian archetypes and focuses more on the person and her experience. I love the way Haase’s model honors the individual, without absolutizing her. The focus remains of God’s dream of the kingdom.

I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

 

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