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What Does Discernment Mean?

(one Friend's perspective)

In the Quaker sense, discernment means patient attendance, learning 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 together 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 listen, or a group can listen together. They are working to determine whether they are "led" somewhere – led by God, the Inner Light, or the Inward Truth.


Discernment for the Listening Project

When JT and I first 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 met with other friends, and finally with a wider community, to test out the ideas that were rising.

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. Traditionally, Quakers test their leadings by relying on their community. Holding a clearness committee felt like a formality, but it helped 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 roughly six months, this was not an empty waiting time. We were actively thinking, discussing, and listening for intuition. We continue to pause and consider when we make new decisions with our work.

Thanks for reading. 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

Our discernment process required that we balance our own will and passion with instruction from the community. In American society, finding this kind of balance (and setting aside our individual will) can be difficult.  However, 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.



We are a network of Quakers who work for inner transformation and collective renewal. Our goal is to motivate one another toward revitalization, so that people of faith may become creative, relevant, and thriving for years to come.

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