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Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing). In the case of judgement, discernment can be psychological, moral or aesthetic in nature. Discernment has also been defined in the contexts; scientific (that is discerning what is true about the real world), normative (discerning value including what ought to be) and formal (deductive reasoning). The process of discernment within judgment, involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Discernment in the Christian religion is considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.
In Christianity, the word may have several meanings. Discernment can describe the process of determining God's desire in a situation or for one's life or identifying the true nature of a thing, such as discerning whether a thing is good, evil, or may even transcend the limiting notion of duality. In large part, it describes the interior search for an answer to the question of one's vocation, namely, determining whether or not God is calling one to the married life, single life, consecrated life, ordained ministry or any other calling.
Process of Discernment
The process of individual discernment has steps that can be taken in order to achieve a level of discernment. The following actions can be made when making decisions of discernment; taking time in making decisions, using both the head and heart, and assessing important values involved in the situation. Time has been considered necessary in the process of making a smart choice and decisions made in a hurry can be altered by lack of contemplation. When time is available to assess the situation it improves the discernment process. When time allots the tentative decision can be revisited days later and external people can be consulted to make sure that the individual is satisfied with their choice. Making decisions is involved with discernment and they require both the "head" and the "heart". Making decisions with the "head" means to first reflect on the situation and emphasize the rational aspect of the decision making process. In order to make a decision with the 'heart'' the individual needs to make decisions based on feelings as well as rationality. Values in the discernment process are weighing options that decide what is most important to the individual. Every individuals value system is different which affects each individual discernment process. Combining values, using both the head and heart and taking sufficient time when making decision are the main steps for a successful discernment process.
Group discernment is a separate branch of discernment. In group discernment each individual must first undergo their own discernment process. The individual must keep in mind what is best for the group as a whole as well as the individual when making a decision. The same principles of values, using the head and heart, as well as giving the decision making process ample time all still apply in group discernment. Group discernment is different because it requires multiple people to have a unanimous decision in order to move forward. Group discernment requires discussion and persuasion between individuals to arrive at a decision.
Christian Spiritual Discernment
Christian spiritual discernment can be separated from other types of discernment because every decision is to be made in accordance with God's will. The fundamental definition for Christian discernment is a decision making process in which an individual makes a discovery that can lead to future action. In the process of Christian spiritual discernment God guides the individual to help them arrive at the best decision. The way to arrive at the best decision in Christian spiritual discernment is to seek out internal external signs of God's action and then apply them to the decision at hand. Christian Discernment also has an emphasis on Jesus, and making decisions that align with those of Jesus within the New Testament. The focus on God and Jesus when making decisions is what separates Christian discernment from secular discernment. Ignatius of Loyola is often regarded as the master of the discernment of spirits. Ignatian discernment comes from Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) when he created his own unique way of Catholic discernment. Ignatian discernment uses a series of Spiritual Exercises for discerning life choices and focuses on noticing God in all aspects of life. The Spiritual Exercises are designed to help people who are facing a major life decision. There are seven steps of discernment to be followed that include identifying the issue, taking time to pray about the choice, making a wholehearted decision, discussing the choice with a mentor and then finally trusting the decision made.
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