"It is precisely the changing focus of daily living, and the new circumstances of the postmodern situation, that demand discernment. The old ways, good as they were, may not apply to new situations, while new circumstances demand a creative engagement with God to point an individual, a community, or even the world in the right direction."
--Richard Valantasis, from "Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age"
One of the things about living in the country that I have come to appreciate is "You never know what you'll find in the road some days." I was going home a few days ago, and smack in the middle of my gravel road was the Angus cow in the picture. From a distance, at first, all I saw was the cow. I'm thinking, "Oh, man, one of my neighbors' cows is out." But as I approached, and began to discern more of the situation, I could see that this cow AND her calf were both out. By now I'm thinking, "I wonder why that calf is clear over there. That's a pretty little calf. He's of the age he should be hanging close to his mom." As I got still closer, I figured it out. They had both been out in the road, but the calf somehow got over on the other side of another neighbor's fence, probably in a spot where he was small enough to slip through, but Mama was too big. Now Junior can't figure out how to get back, and Mama can't help him. All she could do was bellow.
I stopped over at my neighbor's house, but no one was home. It was a situation where I wasn't much use at all by myself. I didn't feel inclined to get out of the truck and try to chase Junior back over, for the simple reason that his mama doesn't know me. She would very likely perceive me as a threat to her baby, and go after me. With no one else around to distract her, that didn't seem like a very smart idea. She would possibly not understand I wanted to help her baby, but without others to help, there was not much I could do. If she was "my" cow, it might have been a little different. She would know me as someone who brings hay, and talks to her, and there would at least been a shred of trust.
So I left them to their predicament, and hoped they worked it out. When I got home, I left a phone call to my neighbors. Well, they weren't out in the road the next morning, so I'm assuming it all worked out.
Many levels of discernment are going on in this story.
First, there's the story of the cow and the calf themselves. Mama and baby want to be together. Mama probably knows what the problem is, but she is too big to get through the fence and simply go get her baby. Junior went wandering into a place where he ended up in a strange place by accident, and he desires to be back by Mama's side, but he doesn't know how to get there. Mama alone isn't sufficient to accomplish this task. There needs to be more players in this story. I show up. I am not a trusted member of the community. I'm no help, other than to try to find the most useful players in the community to accomplish this. Finally, there's the fact they are both out in the road and should be in their own pasture...but I doubt either of them really care whether they SHOULD be in their own pasture. Honestly, I think they would both be content, at least for a while, to wander the road and check out the scenery, and eat all the "forbidden" grass. But, I suppose, after a while, they would both be lonely for the company of other cows and would like to be a part of a community, both for the "company" aspect, and the "being fed some things they would not get as wandering cows," part of the community.
There are a million places I can hook into this story, and I'm betting that's true for all of us.
Sometimes we're Junior in this story. We wander off in a place where we don't know how to get back. Someone might be calling for us but they can't come get us, because they don't "fit."
Sometimes we're Mama Angus. We desire an outcome for someone we love, and we alone, are not sufficient to provide it.
Sometimes we're both Mama and Junior. We've burst the bonds of our confinement and are out wandering around, exploring. Maybe we are still having too much fun exploring at the moment...or maybe we are tired of exploring and want to come home to a community where we will have like-minded company and be fed by things that come from outside of us.
Sometimes we're me...the person who just happened onto the situation, and we have to discern whether or not we are able to help...or if we are able to help, but only in a limited way, we have to define our limits and be satisfied that "it is sufficient."
Finally, sometimes we're the neighbors. We have no idea a situation is happening under our noses until someone tells us about it. That situation might be initially met in our minds with shock, anger, disbelief, or hurt. We might even question "whether it's our cows or not." It might be met with an immediate sense of duty to rectify it. It might be met with hesitation, or delay, or not wanting to accept it, or anger that we have to drop what we're doing, and would rather be doing, and have to go do something we don't want to do. We're not always happy when the community points something out.
I'm pretty sure I've been every player in this story, myself!
But this is where "community" comes in.
There's a place where we can roll something around in our head, and all it does is make us sick inside. So we take it one step further--we talk to someone we trust. Yet there's a place where we can talk to someone "one on one" and all it means is "we two agree."
There is value in "community" on discernment at many levels. One level can help set a course or plan of action. Another level shows the individual things he or she might not see solo. Yet another level sets boundaries and levels of accountability. Being the "participant" in discernment but not the "object" of discernment reflects back onto the participant, and might spur thought in other directions in that participant, which generates future discernment where that person might be the "object."
In my picture, we very likely desire Mama and Junior to be reunited. That might not have been what happened. It's entirely possible that Junior got put in a pen of feeder calves at the end of this. The end result of discernment is not always the fulfillment of our desires. But forward movement will still take place. Perhaps that's the most important part of all in it!