As promised, with an apology for the long delay, here is the follow-up to the previous post (Tasked) and the decision that I thought was finally able to make when I wrote that post. But, as you will see below, I have had to add a question mark to the title.
To backtrack briefly, I had been in formation for the Secular Franciscan Order for three years when the I received what seemed to be a tasking to take on Goliath (the subject of the previous post, in which I refer to Goliath as G), who seemed to have introduced Evil into our local SFO, if not into the regional organization. With God's help, the SFO Council took some remarkable steps to curtail G, steps I reported in the previous post. So, my tasking was complete, or so I thought.
I have not yet professed, thank God, because I think the outcome of this experience may be the decision to leave the Franciscans. The decision is only in part a result of my experience with G and Evil; it is in greater part a result of a long-term period of discernment. The question is when I might leave. I had thought the answer was "now," but after the last SFO meeting, I think that perhaps I am supposed to wait a little longer.
But I entice you without providing sufficient details for you to follow my line of reasoning. So, here are the details, at least those that I remember as of this morning. Three things lead me to believe that perhaps the SFO is not where I should end up. they are:
(1) A strong feeling that I am being called perhaps toward an association with Carmelites rather than Franciscans. While my lifestyle is very Franciscan, my spiritual experiences (especially the locutions) are not in keeping with what is accepted by leaders at the regional level of our organization and not in keeping with the experiences of most of the local fraternity. While I have developed close friendships locally and know that several of the newer people have latched onto me as someone willing to help them (not necessarily in SFO-related ways but in life-related matters), I have been feeling a growing contentment with the idea of leaving, a contentment that is stronger than the idea of staying, and a burning curiosity to learn more about Carmelite spirituality, which on the surface seems closer to my experiences. (I have for some time used St. Theresa's works and tests for authenticity as a guide.)
(2) I have prayed considerably for help in discernment. At one point, when I picked up the only Tau cross I own, planning to wear it to the SFO meeting that day, it broke into two pieces in my hands although I had put no pressure on it. I never know how to interpret such happenings, as signs or coincidences. I think they can be either. I truly miss having Fr. Barry around for guidance. For three years, this highly experienced, 80-year-old Franciscan priest served as my spiritual director (at least, de facto). However, the regional organization has chased him away to a location 100 miles distant. (Chased is the appropriate lexical choice in spite of the emotional loading of that word not being intended, but I cannot explain any of that without a much longer post.)
(3) As a result of #1, I felt the need to learn more about the Carmelites. I tracked down one nearby group, but it turns out that the only name I could find had a phone number that no longer works. Then, on a business trip to Ohio with a colleague, a peer who heads one of the four local directorates of our organization (I also head one), we stumbled into a discussion of Catholicism and our Catholic experiences. I have known her since 1983. I had no idea she was Catholic; she had no idea I was Catholic. The more we talked, the more fascinating everything became, including the fact that we had serendipitously stumbled (or been guided?) into this particular conversation, which is quite far from our everyday work and typical conversations. I took the plunge and shared with her some of my spiritual experiences, including a couple of the locutions. She did not bat an eye, which surprised me. Then she suggested I consider getting together with some Carmelites. I told her I had considered that, but I could not find a local group. Amazed by all this, she informed me that she herself is the formation director of the local group! So, I will be attending a meeting on Saturday. I am not making any premature judgments now or even at or after that meeting. I will do as Fr. Barry has taught me -- if the received "guidance/tasking" meets basic tests of authenticity, do as asked for a while and see what happens.
Meanwhile, I attended the April SFO meeting, and clarity turned to the proverbial/Biblical seeing through a mirror darkly. "Clearly," not everything is settled yet. "Clearly," the Council is making a stand against G and Evil; G at the meeting made no effort to lead the group in any direction but sat quietly distant, with vacant eyes. Just as clearly, the Council members feel unsupported. If I walk away before their work is finished, they might give up: I learned, confidentially, that two of them have been talking privately about resigning from the SFO in an effort to make regional understand their abhorrence over how Evil has infiltrated the organization. (Yet, if Evil has infiltrated regional, their resignation will bring delight, not shame or regret.) Alternatively, they might give in: G still receives strong regional support, using the basis of which he tries to influence Council meetings. The local fraternity has been without a spiritual advisor for almost a year, a fact that allows G and his regional supporters to ride roughshod over the local Council, promoting the Evil that still accompanies G. When I wonder where I fit in all of this at the current moment, having, I thought, completed my tasking, I remember E's earlier prayer about this situation and his rush to come by my house and tell me that I am supposed to see this situation through. Apparently, it is not through yet although I had hoped it would be and even thought it might be. Some days, I would like not to see it through. Then I consider that Jesus had to see something far more difficult and painful through, so I should and can be however patient I need to be and do whatever needs to be done to see this through.
N and I are now working on the next step, which I will relay in another post once it has occurred. We strongly believe that the Council needs to find a spiritual advisor, especially one who can counteract the Evil of G, support the Council members in their efforts to guide the local fraternity, and remove any reason for regional to continue stepping in to provide near-mandatory direction (direction that supports G in seeming obliviousness to the Evil that surrounds him and pervades his behavior). Sometimes I wonder if this is all a matter of politics. Then, I recount for my logical self that occasionally questions my spiritual self that God does not play politics; God counters Evil, turning bad into good. (To need a logical argument is to give partiality to my Western being. How strange Western culture is -- we can readily believe in atoms that we cannot see but cannot believe in Good and Evil that we can sometimes actually see!) The effort that God has made to help me understand what He wants me to do should be sufficient to know that this is more than politics. It is Evil in God's family -- and He wants it out of there! Sometimes I think (but who am I to "think") that everything might have been resolved already had God selected a more competent and experienced person. All I am is someone willing to do whatever God asks of me. I wonder if that is enough, but if God considers it to be enough, then it is enough. I will just have to keep trying to do as He asks and trying to discern exactly what it is that He is asking.
This then is my confession, folks. In spite of waiting for more than two weeks to prepare the promised post about a "forthcoming decision," I have no decision to report. That's the way it goes for me with discernment and with God's taskings. I think I have everything figured out and then learn that I either have it figured out wrong or have nothing figured out.
I make few decisions all by myself anymore. Although people at work think of me as decisive, I always ask for guidance before making decisions. When possible, I close my door for a minute of prayer. Where not possible, I take a minute to pray silently right where I am rooted. People often think I am reflecting before speaking, but I am not. I am praying before speaking. After all, these are God's people who work for me, including the atheists among them, and I want to know what God wants for each of them and how God wants me to treat each of them. Then I can decide how to handle each matter.
So, in the matter of Goliath and Elizabeth, no decision. Not yet. For now, I live with the question mark.
(This is #2 in a longer thread that began with Tasked.)