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Spiritual Direction

Traveling the Path: Getting to Know Our SC Spiritual Directors
S. Patmarie Bernard

How would you define spiritual direction?

My definition is journeying with someone, discerning God’s movement in their life into an ever greater personal relationship with God. We always want to go ever going deeper in that relationship.

I think a big part of receiving spiritual direction is articulating your journey, articulating where you are on the path, what’s been happening. There is value in just verbalizing it, along with the deep listening of the director.

How did you begin this ministry?

I was directing a medical clinic for the poor out West, and different people would come to me and ask if they could just talk. It was really about their life journey, and this whole issue would come up about what relationship was with God and how they were promoting growth of that relationship. I loved it; it’s such a privilege to journey with people. My own spiritual director advised me that I should get some credentials, so I went to the Mercy Center in Burlingame, California, and participated in a 30-day intensive program in the art of spiritual direction. I hadn’t been away that long ever in the 23 years I was at the clinic, but I wanted to do this because I knew that in the future I wanted to continue doing it. Later, I was invited to do some spiritual direction at Sangre de Cristo Renewal Center, which is a 100-day program for priests and bishops in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I did spiritual direction with five people there as part of their retreats. It was such a privilege and made me really realize that my passion in life was the spiritual journey.

How did your past ministries prepare you for doing spiritual direction?

I think that with my own credentials of being in healthcare and working with the poor, some people connect with that. I put it out there so that some people might say, “oh, she speaks my language.” Many of my directees haven’t had a healthcare background, but for some, it’s been a little thing that fits. When they talk about the roles they’re doing in healthcare, I understand it.

What do you like to know about a person when they begin meeting with you?

I would invite them to share with me, who is the God of their heart? How is God calling them? What have been some of their experiences up to this point, as far as their journey in the spiritual life? What do they hope for, as I journey with them? I always want to know, what are the deepest hopes of their heart?

Do you see people who aren’t Catholic?

Absolutely. I’ve seen people of a number of different denominations. I think in this day and age of ecumenism, there’s a deep spirituality there. I think that God calls in many ways, whether it’s to be a good Jewish person, a good Hindu person, a good Catholic, a good Christian. God calls in many different ways.

How do you make a person feel comfortable to start sharing their thoughts?

When directees get here, they’ve been traveling, so I encourage them to take some deep breaths and come into this space. Oftentimes, I’ll either just say a short prayer asking God to be with us and to bless both of us as we look at this person’s journey, or I might ask them if they’d like to say a prayer. I very much focus on them and on both of us in blessing us to go deeper into the divine mystery.

It’s very important not to focus on me; it’s about the directee. It’s not a time for teaching, it’s a time for looking at their journey, maybe making some suggestions. It’s also very important in learning that where a person is last month, they may be someplace else this month.

Your bio mentions that you are trained in Native American spirituality and other creative expression modalities. Can you explain what these are and how you utilize them in spiritual direction?

I have a deep love and respect for Native American spirituality, having been exposed and somewhat immersed in it for many years out West. Historically, Native Americans have much to teach on respect and care for the Earth. There is a strong sense of connectedness to all of creation. Some directees have inquired about and embraced some of the practices. Other creative expression modalities that help directees go deeper include mandalas, haikus, graced history reflections, and significance of colors. These would only be suggestions, as appropriate to the individual’s sharing or request.

What is most rewarding for you in this ministry?

It’s such a privilege to journey with someone, to share with them on a deep level what’s been going on in their life. Before I even see a person, I pray to the Holy Spirit to work through me to help that person. Sometimes I can’t even tell you why I’m led to a suggestion or affirming that person. I can just feel the spirit working through me. That’s kind of awesome.