As I deepen my love for my friend, I come to know what she likes and dislikes. I come to see the world through her eyes, and thereby experience it anew. What once was trite and meaningless to me now becomes an object of wonder, when I look at it with her. This deepening friendship gives rise to regular moments of conversion.
In the early days when I was just coming to know the woman who was to become my wife, I tried wild and wonderful things. I remember our first date, for pizza and a late-night showing of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. To me, that was the pinnacle of class and romance: shared Shakespeare. Ah!
She fell asleep midway through the film. By the end of the evening I could hear my sails flapping as the wind died down. It had felt like a Truly Great Idea. But it was rooted pretty deeply in my own imagination, rather than in the good soil of conversation. I had not yet learned the art of discernment.
I like to think of discernment as common vision, a shared look at the world. In prayer, I come to love God even as I have come to love Sue. I learn to distinguish my Great Ideas from those which emerge deliberately in the context of prayer over time. In Ignatius’s language, I discern which movements come from God and which come from the enemy of my nature (or is it “the enemy, my nature”?).
Friendship—and its sacramental version, marriage—is the practice of shared vision, and as such it is good practice for the life of discernment. My will—my Great Ideas—are only one part of the conversation, and I derive my joy from sharing a vision of the good. And over time that practice of common vision becomes habitual, even though imperfect. I make mistakes; I backtrack; I say sorry. I grow, but more importantly, we grow together.