Every year our yearly meeting has a retreat over Memorial Day for high school juniors and seniors called Samuel School. It's taken from the passage in I Samuel 3 where Samuel as a young boy first hears God speaking--but doesn't recognize it as God at first until Eli realizes what's going on and tells him to go back and listen to what God's wanting to say. It's a great retreat, and each meeting chooses a couple of youth to go who they feel are fairly spiritually mature and ready to dig deeper in their faith.
So this weekend I get to be at Samuel School, help lead worship (music and helping to teach about the use of unprogrammed worship), and teach a short class to the juniors about the transitions they'll be facing as they move into their senior year and look toward graduation. It's always a fun weekend because it's a great group of youth who are already asking good questions. I'm excited to get to know them better, and it's also a good reminder to me every time I go to be listening well. The same things are taught every year because it's a different group of youth every time, so for leaders who go more than once it's repetitive--but I've found that repetition useful because it's good to get a refresher every year or two.
Tonight what stood out to me as important and something I have previously appreciated but forgotten was the notion of a "discernment portfolio." The idea is to pay attention to times in your own life when you're pretty sure or at least suspicious that God was speaking to you, and to notice what that was like for you. How did you feel emotionally and physically? What happened? Were there other people involved? Sometimes God speaks through natural events and sometimes supernatural or abnormal things like dreams. Sometimes God speaks through our own powers of reason. So as you pay attention to the things that were involved in that experience, and after you do this with several experiences, you begin to build up a "discernment portfolio," a collection of times you felt God moving and your noticings about how that happens and how you recognize that as God. Then when you feel/experience those things again you can be pretty certain God's working in your life again (although sometimes God does new and unusual things that don't fit the normal pattern of how God speaks to you). The idea is that God is already active in your life, speaking and working through the things you enjoy or the places where you feel like you receive life and energy, but sometimes those times are so natural for you that you don't recognize them as God unless you think about it intentionally.
This is an important concept to me, because it's good to remember that God works in each of us differently, and that it's my joyful task to get to know myself better and the ways I respond to things so I can be more aware of God. It's also encouraging to know that God has given me gifts and passions that are also passions of God. The reason I enjoy and gain energy from certain things is quite possibly because God is working in those areas in my life. I don't have to drop the things I'm passionate about in order to do God's will, because those things are God's will.
For me some of the elements in my "discernment portfolio" include reading and writing (e.g. this blog), and times when I have a deep sense that something is true or right. It's kind of an intuitive sense, a deep knowledge that can't be explained--or explained away. There's a feeling in my chest, about at the point where my lowest ribs meet, of barely contained energy and motion that comes to me sometimes in meeting when I feel centered. It's especially pronounced when I need to share something, whether in meeting or other times when I need to share a difficult truth. It's different from feeling nervous (because I get that feeling often enough and it's not the same). It's the feeling of justice and truth. I just was able to name it in about October of last year, and imagined it as a pod or seed shape like two hands cupped in prayer, and out of this seed grows the words of truth and justice which can't help but flow from my mouth.
It's good to be reminded of these physical sensations coupled with mental and emotional awareness. I think in our culture that so separates the mind, body and spirit we forget that our spiritual existence cannot be separated from our bodily existence. But they go together, and I beleive God uses our bodies to teach us and help us grow just as much as God uses our minds.