Discernment and discretion come from the same medieval word, “discretio.” As the church was emerging out of the dark ages and into a season of locked-down authority and hierarchy (from which she is yet again emerging, but slowly) the human work of discretio was spiritual work which was two sides of the same coin. What one discerned about what God was calling them to do in life was linked to what one discerned about what one was being called (or invited) not to do.
Jesus marks discretion when dealing with rulers who try to catch him in entangled Jewish law. Jesus marks discernment when he went to the mountain to pray in the early morning hours of the day. And this tree on the mountain of Cathedral Ridge reminds us that Christianity does not have a corner on the discernment market. Prayer is too often seen as asking God for things. And from God’s point of view I wonder if God sometimes feels like a celestial butler since that is so often how our prayers sound.
But prayer, as this bent tree reminds me, is also about asking God for direction. “Which way to the Holy Mountain please?” “It is over there. Go that way. Or don’t. Your choice. And if you don’t, I can work with that too, so relax.”
I wish I were as spiritually blessed as some for whom God seems to show up with a map. For me, it is usually the case that I have to search for the bent tree among many other trees. It can be hard work. It is not usually lit by a spotlight – especially in the darkness of grief’s night. For me it takes many five minute- session in darkness, with a candle, listening; and lots of rest. But at the same time, there is so often, in my experience, a tree, somewhere, which points the way even if it is a conversation, a warming longing with opening doors, or a friend who can lend me courage until I have some of my own.
The problem is that the Christian church has for so long dealt in manipulation, oppression, bullying, lies, torture (The Archbishop of Canterbury had a torture chamber in his castle ….can you say bad Karma!?) that moderns (especially women) need to be invited to trust their inner thoughts as good – or at least possibly good before, we can see the tree for the forest.