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Johanna Jackson

What Does Discernment Mean?

In the Quaker sense, discernment means patient attendance, to learn more about where one is led. Sometimes, it means waiting without knowing why.



Friends value the power of corporate discernment. This is a process of listening together in prayer and in community. It guides and instructs us as we grow. Sitting in discernment with a group can harness the collective energy of all the people gathered. It can also draw on the wisdom of the group: we act as checks and balances for each other.

Some Friends view discernment as a process where a person prays and listens. At its best, the process is unhurried. Rushing makes it harder to be careful and honest with ourselves. One person can discern, or a group can discern together. They are working to determine whether they are "led" somewhere – led by God.


Discernment for the Listening Project

When JT and I started the Listening Project, it began as a small endeavor. We worked together privately. First we discerned individually, about what we might be led to do. Later, we discerned with other friends, and finally with a wider community.

Waiting for clarity showed us that some of what we were called to do was simply to listen. We wanted to listen to young people. We met with two other Friends to hold a clearness committee, since typically Friends these their leadings in community. Doing so felt like a formality, but it ended up helping us hone and refine our ideas. Friends asked us: What do you want to do? How will you do this together? Why is it important to you, personally, to work on the Listening Project? Answering these queries drew out more of the passion and vision that we carry.

Discernment is an active process. Though we discerned for about six months, it was not an empty waiting time. We were actively thinking, discussing, and listening for intuition.

This page was written by Johanna Jackson with input from two seasoned Friends.

Fruits of Discernment

Discerning as a group helps us to wait for guidance and make our choices based on that guidance.

Finding a Balance

As you can see, our discernment process involved balancing our own will and passion with instruction from the community. In American society, finding that balance like that can be difficult.  As Friends remind each other in one version of our Faith and Practice book:

The experience of the Spirit is both individual and communal. . . [The] individuals teach the meeting, and the meeting molds and teaches individuals.

This reciprocity, though it may be difficult, is very important. To read more about this balance, we'd recommend referring to a copy of Faith and Practice. The excerpt above is from North Pacific Yearly Meeting, which has an online copy available.