BY DAMIEN F. BRENNAN
Ever since I was in my twenties, I have returned to two Hebrew Scripture readings that have influenced me, especially at times of major life decision or transition points. Of course they are not the only influence upon my discernment, scripture or otherwise, but they have a primacy of place.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, reminds us that ‘there is a time for everything’ and that during various phases of our life we will experience many ebbs and flows. At first glance, this book can appear full of despair or gloom, perhaps even cynical in other sections. But as verse 14 states, ‘I recognise that whatever God does will endure forever, there is no adding to it, or taking from it.’
Our lives, and the cosmos in which we live, are such gifts from the Creator.
Throughout my life, I have found this reference has assisted me to keep the present moment in perspective, to take a longer view when things seem to be closing in or when positive opportunities seem absent.
When we are mature enough to reflect upon a few decades of life, we know full well that there are times of birth, of dancing, of mourning, of casting away and so forth. In times of deep travail or despair we can realise that this too will pass.
The second influence is from the 1 Kings 19:9-13.
Elijah has journeyed for forty days and nights to Mt Horeb, where he shelters in a cave. Mountains in Hebrew Scriptures appear so often to be places where the divine engages with humanity.
The story turns things upside down because the divine is not revealed in the elements of a powerful wind, an earthquake and fire. It is when Elijah hears the gentle breeze that he covers his face with his cloak (in the Hebrew Scriptures one is not to gaze on the face of God) and he meekly stands at the entrance of the cave. It is in this gentle, but piercing breeze that God’s presence is encountered.
In this instance, power, majesty and might are not where God is.
Sometimes when we face major decisions or transition points in life, we can be seduced by power, majesty and might and may choose to hang onto where we are or to our current responsibilities. We might even feel stuck because of the status and the identity that things, such as a significant position or privileges, provide for us.
We might also find that there is an emerging insight, a small niggle or the whisper of a gentle breeze of discernment that is inviting or challenging us to see things from alternative perspectives. We might hear the divine calling to us, inviting us to see again that there is a time for everything, especially of letting go of those things that impede us or are not life-giving for us or to those we care about.
We might need to cast away from what we are doing, from our current role, status or actions in order to respond to that zephyr of informed conscience or discernment that can disturb or challenge us with a quiet persistence.
I have read much over the last few weeks about Emeritus Pope Benedict’s decision to retire as Bishop of Rome. There are, as you know, a range of perspectives about his decision, some supportive and others concerned about precedents for future Bishops of Rome.
I suspect that, as a deeply reflective and holy man, he heard a gentle breeze calling to him indicating that it was a time to cast away.
In this decision he has revealed that a designated role is not our identity and that we would each benefit from taking time to discern what life and the divine are calling us towards - continually.
His decision is refreshing, liberating and illuminating – a powerful insight into wisdom and discernment, not just for him but also for each of us as we reflect upon our life’s mission and purpose.
And a voice said to him, ‘Elijah, why are you here?’ (1Kings 19:13)
Damien F. Brennan is a consultant and writer and provides leadership development services primarily to education, welfare, Church and not-for profit sectors.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.