"Spiritual formation cannot be forced, only prepared for. Hence its means cannot be those of conquest, but only of facilitation and preparation." [Adrian van Kaam, Studies in Formative Spirituality, I, 2 (1980), 303]

Relationship Seminar II

JMarieWEB201401JMichael Whelan 2

Starts 26 October 2017
Participants must have completed Seminar I

“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 relationships. 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 second 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: Michael Whelan SM, PhD & Marie Biddle RSJ, MA, MTh
When:           Four Thursday mornings, 10am - 12noon, 26 October - 16 November, 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 2008 Japanese film, Departures. This film, directed by Yōjirō Takita, follows the life journey of a young man who loses his dream to be a great cellist and instead gets a job encoffining the deceased.

There are four main characters. Many deeply human themes emerge and each is brought to us with great feeling and compassion. The cinematography and the sound track are superb, assisting in our engagement with death, presence, communication, culture, otherness, reconciliation and love.

Copies of the film are available online. Just Google “Departures”. 


Week 1: “Communication”

“ .... they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7)

“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15 – NIV)

“We exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany.” (“A Letter on the Contemplative Life” in Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master – The Essential Writings, edited by Lawrence S Cunningham, Paulist Press, 1992, 425. Merton wrote this letter on August 21 1967)

“What is best is what is not said ...” (Journal entry February 19 1967 in Learning to Love: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Six 1966-1967, edited by Christine Bochen, Harper Collins, 1997, 200.)

Human communication in general and speech in particular, carry all the complexities of being human. They also carry immense possibilities for healing, building and maintaining relationships.

Week 2: “Otherness”

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” (Exodus 3:14 – JB)

“Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 – JB)

There is a story from the Desert Fathers in which Macarius the Great (300-390) found a skull in the desert. The skull spoke to him and told him of the torment of hell being isolation from the other and how Macarius’ prayers alleviated their suffering: “‘It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the other’s face a little. Such is our respite’.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward, Mowbray, 1975, 136-138.)

We are made in the image and likeness of the absolutely Other! Otherness is an essential part of our humanity. Otherness is also an essential part of our freedom. To liberate the otherness of the other is one of the greatest gifts that we can give.

Week 3: “Reconciliation”

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–18 – NRSV)

“This understanding of reconciliation, of the peace made through the blood of Christ’s cross, illumines what the resurrection can mean for our time. It is not a forgetting of the past, but a transfiguration of it. It seeks peace, it engages in practices of forgiveness. Surely we could not ask for a more challenging and timely spirituality than this! It is challenging because it requires us to seek reconciliation in our own families and communities. It is challenging because it requires us to sustain communities of reconciliation that can provide accompaniment and hospitality to those seeking reconciliation in their own lives. And it is timely, especially as we see the sad directions our world seems to be taking.” (Robert J Schreiter C.PP.S, The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies, Orbis Books, 1998, 102.)

Reconciliation is arguably the central task for us all. It is also gift. Ultimately reconciliation is the work of Jesus Christ.

Week 4: “Presence”

“They will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people; for you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” (Numbers 14:14 – NRSV)

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here’.” (Mark 9:5 – NRSV)

“Not once in his entire life had (Will Barrett) allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he ever been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream.” (Walker Percy, The Second Coming, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980, 123f.)

“Presence is what counts. It’s important to realise that the Church itself is presence and so is the contemplative life. Community is presence, not an institution. We’ve been banking on the ability to substitute institution for the reality of presence, and it simply won’t work.” (Thomas Merton – The Springs of Contemplation: A Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Ave Maria Press, 1992, 17.)

It is possible to be “there” without being “present” in any meaningful way. Genuine human presence can transform the most mundane event or action into something beautiful. Presence is what we all long to give and receive.

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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