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Marist Bulletin - Number 79


Brother Donald Bisson, Spiritual Director

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Brother Lluís Serra

Brother Don Bisson, 53 years old, was born in Brunswick, Maine, USA. He joined the Marist Brothers when he was 18, and has earned degrees in Psychology, Spirituality, and Liturgy, and a Doctorate in Spiritual Direction. Brother Don has worked in formation for 10 years, at two different times, spent 12 years as a high school religion teacher and guidance counselor, and was a delegate at the last General Chapter. Currently he resides in Esopus, New York, where he teaches and provides spiritual direction.

If I shared my dreams with you, you – as a specialist in Jungian Psychology – could interpret them for me. What do you think I could learn from them?
Ultimately, only the dreamer can confirm the meaning of a dream. The spiritual director probes the meaning of the dream by open-ended questions, which may point to the meaning of the symbols and movements reflected by the dream. The dream always reveals material from the unconscious of the directee. It points to the unknown and yet not integrated dimension of the psyche. The dream exposes potential blockages, reveals a deeper truth of our being than our conscious knowledge. Dreams in spiritual direction can assist our discernment of choices, be useful in prayer, and remind us that God still speaks to us in the silence of the night.

More and more it seems that people are looking for guidance in the spiritual life… What is the difference between a spiritual director and a guru?
In the Christian tradition, the spiritual director is an ordinary person who walks with another for the explicit growth of the directee in his or her relationship with God. The true director is the Holy Spirit. The director uses the charism, or gift, for this ministry with appropriate training to enhance the competency and skills involved. The director is a fellow pilgrim on the spiritual path. A guru is a teacher. He is a person who has acquired certain knowledge and wisdom, which is then bestowed upon the pupil or seeker. The guru disposes this material in a teacher-student relationship. This is quite different in both process and goal than the Christian tradition of spiritual direction.

Briefly, how would you explain human growth and development?
From a Jungian perspective, Jung would describe personal growth as the process of individuation. This does not mean individualism; it means the process of becoming one’s full and authentic Self. Through the various stages of human development we integrate the capacity to relate to others, form personal boundaries and self-esteem, act generatively, and develop self-acceptance, holistic views of sexuality, and an openness to dialogue with the material from the unconscious. We are continually on this journey and each stage offers us an opportunity to let go of a partial or false identity, created by collective forces and hiding from the call to wholeness. We befriend our shadow, our unlived self, into our conscious life choices, facing humbly our incompleteness and need for God and others.

Father Anselm Grün, a Benedictine monk in Germany, maintains that there is a potential convergence involving spirituality, human development, and psychological analysis. Do you agree?
I would agree with Fr. Grun. Today, there is a much greater awareness of the bridge between psychology and spirituality. The skills and knowledge from psychology assist us in healing those places in us which block us from trusting and creating a more open and vulnerable relationship with both God and others. As St. Irenaeus said in the early church, “the Glory of God is in man fully alive”. In today’s scientific climate, there is less antagonism towards religion and the search for God. It seems that psychology and physics are both pointing to an essential spiritual grounding in the soul and in creation itself. Science cannot replace faith or tradition, but it can help us create new language for human experiences, which points to the Mystery at the heart of all life. The deeper layers of the psyche respond to the questions of meaning, search for immortality, the need for God-imagery and many other areas, which intersect with traditional religious themes.

How is it possible for God to exist in the wounds we all bear?
God is at the heart of human suffering. Our faith reminds us that Jesus’ Incarnation is completed and fulfilled by his obedience in human suffering. The wound of the psyche propels us into the search not only for healing but the search for the Divine. God seems to paradoxically be manifested most profoundly in our wounded-ness. Jung said the language of the soul is based upon paradox. We have been created to allow God to be born in us. Jung also said the “wound” can become the “womb” of our psychic rebirth and transformation. Tending the wound can become a way to God and to compassion towards our brothers and sisters. The wound becomes sacred and we become wounded healers. We could also repeat the wounding we have received and continue distorting and wounding others. This is a deep ethical and spiritual question.

What are the most common difficulties people encounter when seeking to deepen their Christian faith, and how can these difficulties be overcome?
There are many challenges to the development of a mature Christian faith today. I will mention a few. First, many people feel a split between their faith and their experiences of adult life. They understand faith as an intellectual surrender to a series of dogmatic principles without a felt experience of God. Second, some feel they are treated in infantile ways by the institutional church and not empowered through parish and liturgical life to deepen their relationship with God. Third, the church through scandals, splits, and a growing polarization between conservative and liberal groups seems progressively meaningless to modern people. Yet, there are dynamic spiritual movements which are attracting interest in spiritual growth, such as rediscovering the spiritual exercises of Ignatius, retreat and renewal centers, prayer groups led by the laity, and a much larger group of lay and religious both giving and receiving spiritual direction.

How can brothers and lay people prepare themselves to competently offer young people psychological and spiritual accompaniment?
I believe the best possible preparation for spiritual accompaniment is being in direction oneself for a significant period of time. I conduct, with a Sister of St. Ursula, a spiritual direction program for lay and religious in bringing spiritual direction to those who are marginalized or do not have access to this ministry. We have extended spiritual direction to men and women’s prisons, the poor and sick, those in shelters and the dying. Besides being in spiritual direction, there are four major components to the formation process. First, there is a study of the Christian tradition of prayer and meditation practices, from the various traditions in the church, for example Ignatian, Carmelite, Marian etc. Second, there is the study of psychology in recognizing the differences between mental health and spiritual issues, also how psychology assists in understanding the resistances and blockages in the soul. Third, there is a training component on listening skills, practice in doing direction and proper mentoring by experienced directors. Forth, there is both a personal and group supervision, which assures that the issues of the director do not get in the way or distort the direction relationship. When working specifically with young adults, it is also important to know the values and issues of the youth culture in both its positive contributions, but also in its shadow issues. Spiritual directors are continually in ongoing formation in order to be faithful to God’s call.

What criteria must be kept in mind when assisting in the discernment process of a young man who would like to become a Marist brother?
In listening to a young man in discernment of vocation, there are two different roles necessary. The spiritual director and vocation minister have different functions in the process and actually are two different people. The spiritual director listens to the person’s desire for God and how that desire may be channeled into a religious vocation. The director assists the person to be detached in the discernment process and open to the outcome. The issues of prayer and seeking God’s will are at the heart of the conversation. The vocation minister listens also to this call, but is an advocate of the community. The vocation minister must also help discern if this person has a specific vocation to Marist brotherhood, in regard to charism, availability for ministry and community, and the ability of this young person to live consecrated celibacy. This process of dialogue may take a number of months and years as more individuals delay vocational choices till later in life. Both the spiritual director and vocation minister play instrumental roles in the discernment process.

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