Quite a bunny trail this morning – one that began with a word search, intersected with my present search for a sign, a wondering about God’s will distinguished from my own and landing in a place of gratitude today for simply noticing. That’s it. I am so thankful for having a heart and mind that notices seemingly disparate dots – thoughts, scripture, people, places – and knowing they come from and are connected by our loving abba, Father.
Having completed the Daily Office and the readings, I returned to Psalm 71 to look deeper into a word I had skimmed over but that hung around like a little dark cloud. I had lifted my eyes and wondered about the word, but thought of it more as a distraction than a spirit-moment of teaching. Portent. It read and sounded like a word I would encounter in Twilight or the more benign, Harry Potter, but not in scripture. But there it was, in today’s psalm:
7 I have been like a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
Portent means omen or prognostics – a foretelling of something grave, grim, mysterious. A sign? It appears in Scripture more than a dozen times, in a variety of Old Testament books, and in Luke/Acts once, and, predictably, Revelation, three times. Often portent references false teachers, other times as a way of describing the activity of prophets like Isaiah.
Which is interesting. The seemingly disconnected ‘dot’ of Isaiah was brought onto my radar screen just recently in a discussion I was having with a priest about discernment.
We were talking about discernment as the means for identifying what spirit is at work in a situation: the Spirit of God or some other spirit. How can we evaluate whether a call springs from a desire for security or comfort or success, rather than from God? How can we verify that a call comes from God? . Discernment helps a person understand the source of a call, to whom it is directed, its content, and what response is appropriate. Discernment also involves learning if one is dodging a call, is deaf to a call, or is rejecting a call.
No rules provide definitive answers to these questions. And some rules that do exist provide poor or incomplete guidance.
I had just re-read Loving Hearts – one of the go-to books for people called to ordained ministry in the diocese in which I am canonically resident – and shared with my friend the following example of ‘rules’ that had led some faithful astray:
The experiences of the early Quakers illustrate this. One test some Quaker sects used to confirm God’s call was that a “true” call was always contrary to one’s own will. The assumption that a “cross to the will” meant taking up the cross of Christ often produced absurd results. For example, some Friends walked naked in the streets because it was “contrary to [their] own will or inclination” and, therefore, “in obedience to the Lord.” Another test was reliance on a selected passage of Scripture. Frequently, however, this meant (and can still mean) merely choosing some biblical passages and ignoring others to confirm a pre-charted course.
This is where the ‘dot’ Isaiah comes in. My friend reminded me that it was Isaiah who had had ‘walked naked in the streets’ at one point, per God’s call! And not only that, Isaiah did this to be…wait for it, a sign and portent!
Isaiah 20 In the year that the commander-in-chief, who was sent by King Sargon of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and took it— 2 at that time the Lord had spoken to Isaiah son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take your sandals off your feet,” and he had done so, walking naked and barefoot. 3 Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia, 4 so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as captives and the Ethiopians as exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. 5 And they shall be dismayed and confounded because of Ethiopia their hope and of Egypt their boast. 6 In that day the inhabitants of this coastland will say, ‘See, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’ ”
I am in awe of how seemingly disparate dots, unconnected threads, divided lands, strangers, eras…how chaos organizes and connects and makes sense in the one reality of our Creator.
And I am equally awed at the God-given heart and mind to simply notice. In noticing a word that feels odd – portent – in noticing an internal search for a sign – in noticing a need to discern – my Lord, God opens up His Word and world beyond my imagination.
God is always present – always communicating His will to me, calling me to serve, sending me signs and portents. The simple act of noticing. That’s all God asks, really. Pay attention. Notice.
Thy will be done.
Lectionary Readings: AM Psalm , 71; PM Psalm 74
Eccles. 11:1-8; Gal. 5:16-24; Matt. 16:13-20
 Prognostic, interesting enough, comes from the Greek word, gnosis, which is also the root of Gnostic and Gnosticism, meaning esoteric mystical knowledge
 Definitions and quotes from the book, Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community. Farnham, Suzanne G.; Ward, Susan M.; Gill, Joseph P.; McLean, R. Taylor (2011-04-01). Kindle Edition.