“Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp.”—Excerpt from Numbers 9:15-23, 10:29-36 – a scripture reading from this week.
The Israelites, led by Moses, didn’t know where they were headed on their travels to the Promised Land, but God in the form of a cloud, led them by day and, at night, the cloud appeared as fire. They were told to stay where they were unless the cloud lifted from the tabernacle where God was in residence to lead them on the next step of their journey. They followed, but not without some grumbling as they were not too happy with the conditions nor with the waiting. This story is so like us. We haven’t changed much.
This is a story of discernment – seeing God in the circumstances and then following his leading. It’s somewhat like the story I related to you last week – a telegram discernment – not difficult to understand and not often sent. There are other ways of discerning God’s voice and his will for us. Some use the Open door/Closed door method. If the way opens up, persons go through but if the way is blocked they must continue the process. Others use the Peace/No peace method. In this method a person follows the peace they are given. If there is no peace, they stay put. And there are more.
St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, would call this peace/turmoil, “consolations/desolations.” It is not really a method but “rules” of discernment – a way to help discern the presence of God from not God, and which, I believe, the two methods above resemble. Ignatius said that in all of our discernments, we need to give God a “blank check” for whatever he wants to write there. He also said that we should never make decisions in crisis or major turmoil unless we have to, because it is very difficult to discern God’s voice in such times.
I have been sharing my discernment process with you over the past seven months or so. Often, during discernment, I have inner images. This time, I started by facing two paths – one on either side of a tree – sitting with Jesus in the midst of them and, then, standing facing them. I have been carrying a black square – maybe a laptop, maybe not. Before choosing a path, the way began to be obscured by clouds and darkness. Later, I sensed that we had turned toward one path but were waiting for an event to happen.
Still in clouds, we began walking on the path but only for a short distance where we wait. I am not able to see anything so I hang on tight to Jesus lest I get lost or separated. Very recently, the clouds and darkness have started to lift and I have a little clarity on why we are waiting. The “event” has either happened or is in process. Time will tell. Discernment does take time, but where there has been turmoil, there is beginning to be peace. The scripture passage above has given me new insight. The “clouds” that have obscured my journey are not just “obscuring clouds” but the presence of God. They are God, himself, surrounding me and within me.