Julie Mitchell Graduation Speech
Julie Mitchell, Graduate of the Heart Wisdom Program
Speech on behalf of graduates at the graduation celebration 12th November 2017.
It’s time to change the focus in our celebration this evening – to Bernie and Marlene.
Now if I were to slip into spiritual direction mode, I might ask you if you could be present to what you’re experiencing in this moment, and if you could tell me a little about that…but you’ll be pleased to know I’m not going there.
Marlene and Bernie are talented and gifted women of God, but I wonder if you knew that this extends to a capacity to redefine the English language – take for example the word ‘intensive’. We have just completed our fourth and final eight-day ‘intensive’ of formation as spiritual directors today. These ‘intensives’ have not simply been blocks of time set aside to learn a curriculum of knowledge and skills. These ‘intensives’ have been about traversing our inner lives in God, scaling mountains, crossing deserts, falling into pits and climbing out again, together, so that we might accompany others as they seek deeper relationship with God. I don’t think any of us realised the height and depth and breadth that experience would entail at every level of our being. We’re still standing (just), smiling and deeply grateful. We have, at times however, had to enlist the support of a secret lotion – Vaseline Intensive Care lotion – the special ‘deep restore’ version, and Bernie & Marlene, we’d like you to have a small bottle to remind you of us.
Bernie and Marlene have been our formators – this isn’t an everyday word. It means a former, a fashioner, a maker. These words suggest I think that formation is, at its heart, a deeply creative process. So, Marlene and Bernie have been fashioning us to become spiritual directors. What has that looked like? They have shared their prodigious knowledge and skills with us – we are well acquainted with the content, dynamics and graces of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius; we have explored theology, scripture, models of spiritual growth, different ways of prayer, psychological theory (defense mechanisms!), frameworks for listening, styles of spiritual direction; we have considered ethics and boundaries in spiritual direction – and much, much more.
But whilst the content has been and is vitally important, what has been most profound and transformative in our formation is the radical generosity and vulnerability of Bernie and Marlene in their giving of themselves to us. They have not asked of us anything that they themselves have not been prepared to give. They have shaped the program to be responsive to our needs – and that has meant they have devoted hours and hours and hours to preparation of material. They have spent hours and hours and hours reflecting on each day’s program, how we have experienced it and how they have experienced it. They have led us in powerful experiential learning – learning that integrates theory and experience, our heads, hearts and bodies. They have above all been attuned to God and lead us in a process fine tuning ourselves to God – and that involves, if you remember radios before the digital era, moving through a lot of static. They do this and we do this because our hearts’ desire is to facilitate and support those who seek spiritual direction to flourish and grow in freedom in their relationship with God. We understand that this all occurs at significant personal cost, and we are grateful for, and honour Bernie and Marlene’s sacrificial giving.
Charismatic leaders often have a fatal flaw – they shape their followers to be clones of themselves. Marlene & Bernie are without doubt charismatic formators – and I think Pauline, Olivia, Bob and myself hope that we can evidence just a fraction of the graced dispositions and skilfulness that we have witnessed in them. But what Bernie & Marlene have been calling forth in us throughout our formation is not themselves, but God in us and our uniqueness as spiritual directors – the spiritual director who is Olivia, the spiritual director who is Pauline, the spiritual director who is Bob and the spiritual director who is Julie. What an extraordinary witness of humility, service and love.
Last year we studied an article titled ‘The Thing Has Been of God’. We can say with great confidence and gratitude that our formation in the Heart Wisdom program has been of God. There is so much more that we could say – but I will draw this to a close now by thanking Marlene & Bernie, on behalf of Olivia, Pauline, Bob, and myself, for the way they have loved us.
Please accept this gift from us as a small acknowledgement of our great gratitude and love.