Yesterday I heard a man telling a story from a time when he was a paid pastor. He was in his office when he heard a racket coming from the next room. The associate pastors were trying to cast a demon out of a person. The pastor listened to them for almost an hour as the associates kept commanding, “Tell us your name! Who are you? Come out!” and other things I couldn’t really relate to because I was raised a Quaker and apparently we don’t roll that way.

Anywho, the pastor finally went into the room next door and asked, “What are you doing?” “We’re trying to cast out a demon, but it won’t tell us its name.” “That’s because you haven’t discerned what kind of spirit this is! It’s a lying spirit!” “Oh. Okay.” The pastor left, the associates commanded, “Lying spirit, be gone!”, and the man was delivered.

Like I said, there’s a lot to that story that I don’t understand. But the part I’ve pondered was the “discerning of spirits” element. A new “crisis” seems to be emerging (or rather, finally named) in our regional Quaker conference. New mentions of “practicing discernment” peppers the topical landscape. This sort of discernment brings to mind images of turning inward, checking in with the “inner sense,” trying really hard not to use Scripture as a means to justify belief (but really wanting to), and sheer amazement if any sort of thing is agreed upon (but now, actually acting upon it …).

Recently I’ve heard about the gift of discerning of spirits. The above case shows discerning of evil spirits – the kind that Christ cast out of the man and into the pigs. But there seems to be a different gift of discerning as well: what spiritual gifts a person may hold, what honor or favor or future God may have gifted a person with. The centurion discerned Christ carried a great deal of authority. Quakers used to recognize “Weighty Friends”: could that have been a discerning of spiritual things?

I’ve never read Scripture that says God calls me to seek his will, but I have read about being called to seek God’s face – be in right relationship. It seems that God’s responsible for letting me know when I’ve stepped out of his will, which I will know if we’re in right relationship.

I wonder if my practice of discernment has gotten a little too modern (listen til I know which way to go or act: very “holy board room”) or post-modern (listen for the mood or the vibe and leave feeling happy: very “coffeehouse chic spirituality”). I wonder about practicing true discerning of spiritual things: I don’t know how to go about it. But I sense that in this sort of discerning comes the quaking, and that I really want to know more about.

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