Charleston: Learning to Read Spiritual Signs
“You have seen the signs around you for some time now. You are beginning to understand which way the wind is blowing. The spiritual life is not an exercise of imagination, but of interpretation. We see the signs. It is understanding them as a coherent message that takes skill. The handwriting on the wall tells us nothing unless we have learned to read.” —Bishop Steven Charleston, Facebook page.
“Learning to read the signs on the wall.” Bishop Charleston is indeed giving us a good metaphor for living and discerning the spiritual life. As spiritual friends, we help each other see where God is working in our lives. We have friends helping us connect the dots, suggesting that a storm may be coming when we miss the signs. We are called to remember how God led us in our past. We have seen the signs in the past. When one of us cannot presently see the signs of God alive in our lives, those of us who can see help out each other.
This is why God calls us to community. We cannot do this alone. All of our spiritual exercises, prayer, contemplation, study, Centering Prayer, the labyrinth, praying the Rosary, intentional walking, are all tools to help us interpret the handwriting on the wall—the hand of God caring for us, leading us, never abandoning us. Some spiritual disciplines we practice by ourselves; others, such as corporate worship, we do together. Whether we experience these disciplines alone or together, we are called to share what we learn with each other. Discernment as to where we should go or the action to take next is most effectively realized in community.
I do have friends who sit alone and meditate and who say they perceive the points at which God is working in their lives. By listening, they find out what they should do. All the better for them. I could never do this except on very rare occasions. My experience is that others can see signs I have missed, and often the course of action I should take is readily apparent to them. All of this, of course, does involve a great deal of trust.
Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, firstname.lastname@example.org, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.