*Editorial Note: Gaby Viesca has been an important voice within our Writing Collectives for some time. Earlier this month, Gaby officially joined our Missio Alliance team as the Director of Strategy & Partnerships as well. Read more about her discernment process in this vocational shift below, and about what Gaby’s leadership with our team means here. ¡Bienvenida a nuestro equipo, Gaby! ¡Felicidades!
A few weeks ago, I officially joined Missio Alliance as the new Director of Strategy and Partnerships. While the decision to join the team was clear and straightforward, the discernment process was several months in the making. What exactly informed my decision to join Missio Alliance? At the risk of sounding overly-simplistic, I’ll have to say the answer is: ‘Everything.’
Going back a few decades, I used to compartmentalize my decision-making process into clear-cut categories: financial, personal, professional, and such. Every now and then, I was faced with an opportunity where two or more of those categories overlapped, calling for a slightly more complex approach. Even in those cases, my discernment process rarely considered all aspects of my life or the way a particular choice would shape my own becoming.
Fast-forward to 2014, I began a gentle but steady immersion into the world of Ignatian Spirituality. From the very first moment, the invitation to ‘find God in all things’ captivated me and set me on a journey of deep searching and holy curiosity. I started asking questions that went beyond my familiar decision-making approach (i.e. Does this decision make financial, personal, or professional sense?) and forced me to look beyond myself. If I could find God everywhere, that meant I could look for God’s presence in any situation or person around me. I could look for God’s invitation in a job opportunity or a new relationship. I could even search for Divine fingerprints in the depths of my soul where my deepest desires lie. This Copernican revolution forever changed my discernment rhythms and the way I experience God.If I could find God everywhere, that meant I could look for God’s presence in any situation or person around me. This Copernican revolution forever changed my discernment rhythms and the way I experience God. Click To Tweet
On Being and Becoming
Krista Tippet, founder of the multi-award-winning podcast On Being, talks about human experience as a “generative narrative.”1 I can’t think of a better way to describe my own journey of discernment over the last decade. In my experience, discernment is a gift from the Spirit that keeps on giving, growing, and unfolding as you tap into it. It is less of a tool and more of a posture. When we embrace this posture of holy discernment as a way of life, every interaction we have, every question we ponder, and every relationship becomes part of our unfolding story and the harmonic motions that shape our journey of becoming. Everything belongs. Nothing is left out.Discernment is a gift from the Spirit that keeps on giving, growing, and unfolding as you tap into it. It is less of a tool and more of a posture. (1/2) Click To Tweet When we embrace this posture of holy discernment as a way of life, every interaction we have, every question we ponder, and every relationship becomes part of our journey of becoming. Everything belongs. Nothing is left out. (2/2) Click To Tweet
The invitation to ‘find God in all things’ has allowed me to become a little more expansive in my thinking and more grounded in my being (both my being with God and God’s Being in me.) When faced with new possibilities, or even the most intricate dilemmas, I now try to ask questions that move me away from constricting dichotomies that tempt me into thinking there is a ‘right’ answer. Rather, striving to seek the God “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere,”2 I ask questions that are open-ended and inviting; questions that infuse me with child-like expectancy and curiosity. Some of these questions include:
- Where is Truth in this invitation?
- Where is God’s voice in the midst of this noise?
- How is God calling me to become more like Jesus?
On Joining Missio Alliance
When Lisa Rodriguez-Watson and I first discussed the possibility of me joining Missio Alliance at the beginning of 2022, I had just entered a new season of seeking, discerning, and potentially changing directions in my own life and ministry. I had served in full-time ministry as a Pastor to women for six years and worked in academia as the Director of Master’s Programs at Portland Seminary for almost three years. While both experiences had their share of joys and challenges, they were incredibly life-giving and undoubtedly rewarding. Part of me was eager to jump to the next thing, but I knew in my heart that I needed solitude and time to ask the deeper questions. The process could not be rushed.
Lisa and I agreed that it was not the time to join Missio’s staff, but the door was left open and we remained committed to our friendship and to this particular conversation. For my part, I kept pursuing the things that bring joy to my heart, like preaching on a regular basis, partnering with organizations on life-giving projects, and writing short articles. I wouldn’t say that I tried to stay busy, though at times that’s exactly what it felt like. Instead, I leaned into my natural gifting and passions and I made it a point to notice the movements of my heart. As I continued to engage Missio as a member of the Writing Collectives, the deeper questions resurfaced and I found myself revisiting my conversation with Lisa time and time again. Towards the end of the summer, I realized an invitation was slowly taking root in the soil of my heart and I tended to it as one tenderly cares for a newborn.
The Deeper Questions
Ignatian author and practitioner, Margaret Silf, speaks of discernment as the act of “noticing the movements of your heart.”3 These ‘movements’ — what Ignatius of Loyola4 called ‘spirits’ — signal to us the effect that certain thoughts, situations, or even possibilities have on our inner selves. We could envision them as needles in an inner compass that help us notice when certain thoughts are moving us closer to God and to our truest selves (movements of consolation), or away from God and into a false center (movements of desolation). Generally speaking, movements of consolation leave us with a sense of feeling seen, at peace, hopeful, or even excited. On the other hand, movements of desolation lead us to fleeting dissatisfaction, confusion, anxiety, and at times, even despair.Margaret Silf, speaks of discernment as the act of “noticing the movements of your heart.” These ‘movements’ signal to us the effect that certain thoughts, situations, or even possibilities have on our inner selves. Click To Tweet
How can we tell the difference between the movements that bring us closer to God (and thus, our deepest desires) and those that take us away from God? It all begins with paying attention.
Have you noticed how certain thoughts or conversations leave you feeling hopeful and seen? Or how an argument with someone you love can leave you feeling anxious or dejected? These inner movements are what I call the ‘aftertaste.’ Take a moment to consider a recent conversation that had a significant impact on you. How did you feel deep in your heart at the end of that conversation? Or in my own words, what was the ‘aftertaste’ like? Noticing those inner movements is the beginning of Ignatian discernment.
Then, we start to ask the deeper questions. I call them ‘the deeper questions’ because most people need to dig a little deeper in their souls to know how to faithfully respond to them. Below is a list of questions I tend to ask myself whenever I need to dive into my deepest center; that place where God’s being dwells in me providing me with light and wisdom.
- What about this possibility brings joy (or anxiety) to my heart?
- Where is/was God in this particular situation?
- What kind of decision or action would bring reconciliation instead of divisiveness?
- What does the voice of Truth sound like at this moment?
- What would faithfulness (to God, to myself, and to others) look like moving forward?
- What would honoring the other look like?
- What is ‘the aftertaste’ of this particular situation/conversation?
- What type of emotions stir up inside of me as I consider this possibility?
- Where in my body do I feel those emotions?
- What are those emotions trying to tell me?
- What is the invitation my heart is deeply resonating with?
- What makes me feel hopeful in this particular moment?
- How is this choice moving me closer to God/away from God?
- How will this choice influence my journey of becoming?
- Do I sense God calling me or nudging me in a particular way or direction?
This collection of questions invite me to look beyond myself and into the other (the other person, the other possibility, or the other way of looking at things). They shift my sight onto the One whose invitation is always directed towards Life and Love. They expand my thinking and my heart as I explore the beauty and the Mystery that lie beyond my immediate reach. But they also allow me to look deep within myself, below the immediate surface. They give me access to my deepest desires when fear or anxiety seem to scream the loudest. Moving back and forth between those outward-focused questions and the inner-contemplative ones is a dance of discernment that generates life within me and around me, allowing me to consider God beyond me, God within me, and everything in-between.
Perhaps you could reflect on a few of these questions as you consider your own life’s circumstances. They may or may not help you get the level of clarity you’re looking for, but they will surely get closer to your being with God and God’s Being in you, and that is a gift in itself.
When I engaged these questions in the context of my conversation with Lisa, I never felt absolute certainty about the decision. But that was never the goal. Instead, I tended to the subtle movements of my heart and followed the invitations that sounded like Truth and felt like Life. When I saw a glimpse of light in the midst of a dark tunnel, I pursued it…and pursued it…and pursued it, until I found myself on a Zoom call with Lisa, almost a year after our original conversation, sharing about my journey and ready to jump. My conversation with her was an act of trust and her response to me was an act of love. We jumped together.
At the end of the day, practicing discernment is a journey of surrender and trust in the company of Love. It’s a collection of movements that bring forth life and disruption, both pain and growth; fueling a generative narrative where every interaction we have, every question we ponder, every relationship we have become part of our unfolding story and the harmonic motions that shape our journey of becoming. Nothing is left out. Everything belongs.How can we tell the difference between the movements that bring us closer to God (and thus, our deepest desires) and those that take us away from God? It all begins with paying attention. Click To Tweet
Gaby hails from a desert-like city in northern Mexico called Torreón. She graduated from college in the city of Puebla, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Business (Universidad de las Americas). In 2011, she moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Biblical Studies (Regent University), though her plan was to go back to Mexico (and the business world) shortly after graduation. Twelve years later, she still lives in the United States where she’s been serving the Church in multiple roles ever since.
Gaby has worked in full-time ministry in Israel, Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. She is passionate about building bridges between the Church and Academia, preaching and writing, and mobilizing congregations to fully participate in the life of the church. Some of her previous roles include Director of Masters Programs at Portland Seminary, Campus Pastor at George Fox University, and various pastoral roles in the Pacific Northwest. She currently serves as a chair of the Evangelical Studies Unit at the American Academy of Religion, and as of a few weeks ago, is now the Director of Strategy & Partnerships with Missio Alliance.
1 https://onbeing.org/our-story/. Accessed March 18th, 2023.
2 There is ongoing debate regarding the origins of the widely known metaphor of God as ‘an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ It has been ascribed to different thinkers, philosophers, and theologians throughout the ages, including Hermes Trismegistus, Blaise Pascal (as he described “nature” and not “God”) and even Empedocles. One of the earlies manuscripts that includes this metaphor is the ’Liber XXIV Philosophorum,’ a Latin booklet by an anonymous author(s).
3 Margaret Silf, Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality, Ch. 2. Loyola Press, 1999.
4 If you’re already familiar with Ignatian Spirituality, this section should just be a quick refresher. If you’re encountering it for the first time, I recommend reading Silf’s book, Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality.
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