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Making decisions in life can be a challenge. The Christian community can be a source of helping you hear God's voice in your ordinary or difficult decisions. One spiritual discipline that helps with discernment is from the Quaker tradition. It's called a Clearness Committee.
The Quaker Clearness Committee is a small group that is called together to assist a person who is seeking the Holy Spirit's direction. In this process of discernment, the participants listen for God who is speaking through each person present. If the participants are hearing the Spirit's leadings, there is a common direction that is discerned. As the leadings begin to coalesce around a certain direction, participants can have more confidence that it is a direction that leads us deeper into God's will.
You can use the more extended process described in the Going Deeper description of the Clearness Committee. Or try a shortened process with no more than 3-4 people. Form a Clearness Committee with your friends, at your workplace, or within a small group at church.
The Clearness Committee is a structure for dealing with our dilemmas in the company of a few friends who can help us seek God's direction. Historically, Quakers used the Clearness Committee when two members of a local meeting (congregation) asked to be married. In the twentieth century, Quakers expanded the approach to help individuals make a variety of important decisions.
Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial spiritual conviction: Each of us has an inner, divine light that gives us the guidance we need but is often obscured by sundry forms of inner and outer interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or alter or "fix" people but to help people remove obstacles and discover the divine assistance that is within. Rooted in that conviction, the Clearness Committee can help people discover their own God-given leadings and callings through silence, questioning, listening, and prayer.
- The person seeking clearness writes down his or her situation in advance of the meeting and circulates the statement to committee members. The issue should be identified as precisely as possible. This is the focus person's first step toward "clearness."
- The focus person chooses his or her committee-five or six trusted individuals with as much diversity among them as possible. The committee should meet with the understanding that there may be a second and even a third meeting in subsequent weeks.
- A "clerk" (facilitator) is named to open the meeting, close it, and serve as a "traffic cop," making sure that the rules are followed and that everyone who wants to speak can get in.
- Typically, the meeting begins with a period of centering silence. The focus person begins with a fresh summary of the issue. Then committee members speak, governed by a simple but demanding rule: Members must limit themselves to asking the focus person questions-honest, caring questions. This means no advice ("Why don't you...?" or "My uncle had the same problem and he...," or "I know a good therapist that could help."), only authentic, challenging, open, loving questions. Members guard against questions that arise from curiosity rather than care for the person's clarity about his or her inner truth. The clerk dismisses questions that are advice or judgment in disguise.
- Committee members should try to ask questions briefly and to the point. The focus person usually responds to questions as they are asked, keeping responses relatively brief. It is always the focus person's right, however, not to answer in order to protect privacy.
- The pacing of the questioning and answering should be relaxed, gentle, and humane. Do not be afraid of silence in the group.
- The Clearness Committee works best when everyone approaches it in a prayerful mood, inwardly affirming the reality of each person's inner guidance and truth. We must give up the pretense that we can know another's truth or that we are obliged to "save" each other. Rather, we help one another pay attention to God's saving and guiding presence.
The Clearness Committee is a powerful way to rally the strength of community around a struggling soul, drawing deeply on "that of God" within each of us. The Clearness Committee has its dangers. But once the spiritual discipline is understood and embraced, it becomes a new channel for the spirit of God to move with grace and power in our midst.
From Companions in Christ, Leader's Guide. Adapted from the article "The Clearness Committee: A Way of Discernment" by Parker J. Palmer, included in the book Communion, Community, Commonweal (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1995), 131-36.