Reading for SP2685 Discernment: Systems and Nature


January 2007

Welcome to our class in discernment with systems and nature. We believe that this emphasis, found few other spiritual direction programs, is one of the distinctives of your work at SFTS. In it, you will learn how to notice and speak about how God is working in systems and structures, including that system in which we all dwell, nature, and you will learn how to help directees to notice these things in their own lives, and move toward life-giving choices in these dimensions of their lives.

Below you will find all the readings that will be  listed in the syllabus, divided by topics. Notice that you need to purchase two books, those by Duane Bidwell and Walter Wink. The rest of the essays are collected for you in a reader that you can order directly from Deb Arca-Mooney. You will need it for your pre-assignment, described on the accompanying sheet


Experience Circle and the Theoretical Perspective of the Course:
(In this group of articles, I suggest you begin with Shea, who indicates the genesis of what we now call the Experience Circle and shows its significance to social discernment. Then move to Liebert, who describes the version of the Experience Circle that we use in DASD, and shows its application to supervision. Finally, Duane Bidwell offers a model for short term spiritual guidance that is especially useful for directors to use with the Social Discernment process that we will be learning together in class. You do not need to have read Bidwell to do the pre-class assignments, so you may want to do this last.)

Elinor Shea, “Spiritual Direction and Social Consciousness” The Way Supplement 54 (autumn 1985): 30-42. (in reader)

Elizabeth Liebert, “Supervision as Widening the Horizons,” in Supervision of Spiritual Directors, edited by Mary Rose Bumpus and Rebecca Langer (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2005), 125-145. Used with permission. (in reader)

Bidwell, Duane. Short Term Spiritual Guidance. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 1-94.

Discernment in Nature:

(In this group of readings, I suggest you begin with McFague, as she develops the foundational assumption that Christians indeed MAY love nature [an assumption not self-evident to all Christians]. A partial biblical basis is suggested in the Newsom article; be particularly sensitive to the conversion that Job undergoes precisely in and through nature; notice too that nature is a structure in its own right [more on this in class]. Lane helps us to see how Calvin, one of our principle DASD theologians, deals with nature. Conclude with the two essays by Russell; these two essays take the modern scientific paradigm with complete seriousness and raise the possibilities for spirituality in the “hard science” of his dialogue partners. Be aware that “The God Who Acts” may be a stretch for those with little science background. Note that you will need to read all these essays before you begin your pre-class assignments, so you may want to start in this section.)

Belden Lane, “Spirituality as the Performance of Desire: Calvin on the World as a Theatre of God’s Glory.” Spiritus 1 (spring, 2001): 1-30.

Sallie McFague, “Should a Christian Love Nature?” The Spire 15 (spring/summer 1993): 1, 11-12. (in reader)

Carol Newsom, The Moral Sense of Nature: Ethics in the Light of God’s Speech,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin (15:1) New Series (1994): 5-27. (in reader)

________. “Contemplation: A Scientific Concept.” Continuum (December 1990): 135-153. (in packet)

Robert John Russell, “Does ‘The God Who Acts’ Really Act?: New Approaches to Divine Action in the Light of Science,” Theology Today 54 (2) (April 1997): 43-65. (in reader)

Discernment of Systems, Structures, Institutions:

(In this section, begin with the Rahner article; though difficult going, it develops a distinction between spiritual freedom and “social freedom”—a significant distinction for our understanding of structural discernment—and demonstrates why we must be about social freedom if we want to grow in spiritual freedom. The other readings can be read in any order. Palmer’s essay invites us to enter into the world of contemplation and action through metaphor and story. Wink develops a theological perspective on discernment that both stresses the Protestant sensibility that all systems are flawed and sinful and extends our vision outward to global-sized systems. The Delbecq, et al, essay shows the general discernment model in dialogue with models of decision-making taken from the business world.)

Karl Rahner, “Institution and Freedom,” Theological Investigations XIII, Trans. David Bourke (New York: Seabury Press): 105-212. (in reader)

Parker Palmer, The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990): _____. (chapter of Woodcarver) (in reader)

Wink, Walter. The Powers the Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Doubleday, 1998. (read all of this book)

André Delbecq, Elizabeth Liebert, John Mostyn, Paul Nutt, and Gordan Walter. “Discernment and Strategic Decision Making.” Unpublished paper, 2002. (in packet) A slightly different version can be found at http://business/

Elizabeth Liebert
January 2007