"If we take a more living and more Christian perspective we find in ourselves a simple affirmation which is not of ourselves. It simply is. In our being there is a primordial yes that is not our own; it is not at our own disposal; it is not accessible to our inspection and understanding; we do not even fully experience it as real (except in rare and unique ' is something they never advert to at all. It is in fact absolutely unconscious, totally forgotten. Basically, however, my being is not an of Being itself, irrespective of my own choices. "Where do 'I' come in? Simply in uniting the 'yes' of my own freedom with the 'yes' of Being that already is before I have chosen to choose." [Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Image Books, 1968/1989, 266]

Relationship Seminar I

JMarieWEB201401JMichael Whelan 2


This is a repeat of the March 2017 Course.
The number of participants will be limited.

“Relationship is written into the very nature of human beings. As the Bible sees human beings, you cannot think about them, without recognizing that they are, as it were, made for relationship.” [Aelred Squire, Asking the Fathers, SPCK, 1972, 20]

Our faith tells us that God is a community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The life of God is a life of relation-ships. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We become human through our relationships.

We are at our best when relationships are rich and strong. Building, developing and healing relationships belongs at the heart of our lives.

Our relationships are fourfold: with God – however we name God – with ourselves, with other human beings and with the world at large. These four sets of relationships are interdependent.

In this Seminar – the first of two – participants will be invited to listen to and learn from their own particular experience of relationships, the experience of the other participants and the wisdom gleaned from various sources.

This is not a therapy group.

You must do Seminar I before you do Seminar II. 


Facilitators/Presenters: Michael Whelan SM, PhD & Marie Biddle RSJ, MA, MTh
When: Four Thursday mornings, 10am - 12noon, 18 May - 8 June 2017
Where: Aquinas Academy, Level 5, 141 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney
Cost: $144 per person, including notes


It is assumed that all participants will bring years of experience of being formed by and forming relationships – for better and for worse.

The first aim of the Seminar is to help participants become aware of that experience and the way it contributes to or obstructs the formation of good relationships now.

The second aim of the Seminar is to help participants freely and consciously develop ways of, building, developing and healing good relationships in the years ahead.

The Seminar will have two interlocking parts:
Ways of thinking: information and insight from different sources, especially the teaching of Adrian van Kaam; a crucial source of information and insight will be the participants’ experiences.
Practices and processes: ways and means of listening and enabling the information to be integrated and become formative rather than just informative; some exercises will be done alone, others together.

The Seminar will proceed by way of input, personal reading and reflection, group interaction and conversation.

Participants will be required to do some work in between sessions. In particular, participants will be invited to keep a personal journal. This journal will remain private.

A guiding question for each participant will be: What is happening? A simple, truthful awareness, accompanied by the willingness to submit to the truth, is absolutely crucial to good relationships. "Without awareness, we are not truly alive." (James F. T. Bugental, Psychotherapy Isn't What You Think, Zeig, Tucker & Co, 1999, 257.)


By way of preparation participants are asked to view the 1996 British film, Secrets and Lies. The film was written and directed by Mike Leigh. It won many awards, including the Best Actress award for Brenda Blethyn and the Palme d'Or.

There are five main characters whose lives intertwine, sometimes destructively and tragically, sometimes tenderly and beautifully. In the end, it is what the various characters make of those relationships that gives the film its great depth.

Copies of the film are available from Aquinas Academy.


Week 1: “The field of formation”
“Whereas the first thing to know in a technical crisis is exact information about the instrument concerned, the first thing to know in the problems of life is that we do not know. Life is a mystery to be lived not a problem to be solved. Before this mystery we stand in awe and surrender. We do not impose our petty categories on the mystery of life; we do not force life into our narrow prejudices; we do not complain that life is too vast for us; we know that life escapes our grasp. We bow in reverence to the mystery of Being; we accept humbly the fact that we cannot understand where life is leading us; we learn the virtue of patience in the school of the adventure of living.” (Adrian van Kaam, Religion and Personality, Image Books, 1964, 24-26.)

We will speak of a field of formation to help us get some perspective on the complex intersection of relationships with which we are involved from the moment of conception – for better and worse. How sad it is when we keep repeating bad habits in our relationships. How wonderful it is when we are free enough to make good choices that enable us to build, develop and heal relationships.

Week 2: “The world of feelings”
"The achievement of freedom from fear is a lifetime undertaking, one that can never be wholly completed. When under heavy attack, acute illness, or in other conditions of serious insecurity, we shall all react to this emotion -- well or badly, as the case may be. Only the self-deceived will claim perfect freedom from fear.” (The A.A. Way of Life; A Reader by Bill, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1967, 263.)

We will speak of the three levels at which feelings emerge and are experienced – the physical, the psychological and the spiritual. All are at play – for better and worse – in our relationships. Feelings, at their best, are an excellent signal to what is going on in our relationships and enable us to build, develop and heal relationships. Feelings, at their worst – especially if they are unacknowledged – can be tragic drivers of destructive forces that will guarantee failure in relationships. In particular, what we do with our pain has great bearing on the health, depth and quality of our relationships.

Week 3: “Forms of the self”
“At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many ‘I's’. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one – which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your ‘I’.” [Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, translated from the Swedish by Leif Sjöberg & W H Auden, Alfred A. Knopf, 1964, 19]

We are multi-layered, prone to lack of self-awareness and even self-deception. What appears on the surface is not always consonant with what is going on at depth. Van Kaam’s construct of the forms of the self will be used to shed light on this. When we are able to relate well with ourselves, able to listen to and face what is going on in the depths of our beings – and this is a lifetime task – we become increasingly well placed to relate well with others, and increasingly able to listen to and face what is going on the depths of their beings. This is the very heart of true intimacy.

Week 4: “Anticipation”
“We are never satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten it on its way; or we recall the past as though to arrest its too rapid flight. So foolhardy we are that we go wandering about in periods of time which do not belong to us, and give no thought to the only one that does. So frivolous we are that we dream of those times, which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook the only one that exists. The reason is that the present generally hurts us.” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, J M Dent & Sons, 1973, §84.)

Anticipation too often gets in the way of good relationships because we have ideas and images – conscious or unconscious – of the way things should be. Thus we repeatedly set ourselves up for frustration – and repeatedly blame “them”. Anticipation is a major factor – for better and worse – in building, developing and healing relationships. To be ready for discovery and surprise in God, one’s self, other people and the world around us, is a beautiful thing – to let beings show themselves as they are in themselves!

See bottom of this page for Booking information.

PLEASE register before the course starts so that notes will be available. It helps a lot!

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