OK - its pushing it to assume my academic writing is interesting to my professors who assign it. I know its pushing it even MORE to assume someone reading this blog would be interested in it. But... well... this assignment connected a BUNCH of dots that have been floating around in my mind (academically, for class and just for fun) and heart (in prayer and discernment).
PLEASE note - I am MERELY A BEGINNER in trying to understand this discernment thing. Shoot... I'm still a toddler in trying to do it myself, no less in trying to study, examine, and understand it. I am neither a spiritual director, nor a model spiritual directee. What follows is a summary of an article that suggests the essential nature of pastoral counseling is recognition of covenant... I've applied that idea to the notion that the fundamental nature of being a Christian (and perhaps discerning a vocation) is also first and foremost to stand in covenant.
*shrug* No answers here, really. I don't have them. I'm not given the graces required to provide them. Really, all that's here is an interesting way of asking a fundamental question - even if the words I use below suggest otherwise.
(The artile in question can be found here: Brueggemann, Walter. “Covenanting as Human Vocation: A Discussion of the Relation of Bible and Pastoral Care.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 33, no. 2 (April 1979): 115-129.)
Brueggemann’s description of ‘covenanting’ permits understanding it as the fundamental vocation of all Christians. He stretches beyond simplified judicious or bargaining conceptions of covenant to suggest covenant means that “human persons are grounded in Another” such that our very lives and existence “depend upon our relatedness to this other One who retains initiative in our lives.” Contrary to modern psychology, anthropology, and (though he does not mention it) perhaps even contemporary ‘vocational discernment’, it rejects the presumption “that the self is the essential unit of meaning.” Brueggemann suggests four ideas concerning God stemming from covenant: (i) Newness in our lives comes from God alone, (ii) who speaks (self-reveals) to us, (iii) and holds us to himself such that apart from “being called and belonging” to Him we cannot exist; (iv) all of which completely redefines our human life.
Based on this, one might say the essence of being Christian (or discerning one’s vocation) lies in coming to “knowledge of self in the presence of God”. The “characteristic actions” of one who ‘covenants’ with God in this way are hoping, radical listening, obedient answering, rage and protest, grieving and praise. These actions acknowledge the fundamental nature of the covenant and reject the idea that “self-knowledge and self-awareness unrelated to the Other” is profitable. It is in this range of postures that one encounters the fundamental anthropology, trusts God with all one’s reactions to it, and risks moving forward in covenantal relationship with Him.
Thus, one cannot consider questions of self-identity apart from the “call of the other One” and surrender to the “givenness” of our identity. It is likewise necessary to redefine our understanding of personal freedom such that we understand it is only attainable in surrendering to the “being/identity/personhood” given by God – not created from ourselves, our wants, or our desires. Using Brueggemann’s argument the fundamental vocation of the Christian can be thought of as rejecting notions of “self-groundedness” or “personal autonomy” in favor of placing ourselves completely (and with trust) “at the disposal of the Other” from whom we gain our existence, our definition, and our very be-ing.
In the context of vocational discernment for the priesthood, where we often speak of attuning to the words of our (individual) hearts as the indispensible tool, Brueggemann offers an important perspective to awaken us to the necessity to stand first and foremost (and even perhaps against the notions of inward turns to our own desires and longings – at least as disconnected from anything else) in covenant with God who calls us into who we are, and apart from whom and His call we have no being or freedom properly understood.