Dozens of religious, spiritual directors, chaplains and laity were on hand to hear Marist Brother Don Bisson speak about the journey of the healing heart to Jesus. Lois Rogers photo
Dozens of religious, spiritual directors, chaplains and laity were on hand to hear Marist Brother Don Bisson speak about the journey of the healing heart to Jesus. Lois Rogers photo
" True self is never finished. It is not static. You can’t say, ‘Maybe by age 75 I’ll get it,’ and go on cruise control. "

“A very rich day, grounded in the truth of Christ. A healing day.”

That was how Frank Coyle described the 24th annual Upper Room Spirituality Conference held in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Coyle, a member of Fair Haven’s Nativity Parish, was appreciative of how the conference focused on how the heart serves as a space that allows healing.

The call from presenter Marist Brother Don Bisson to take a deeply prayerful, personal journey of the healing heart to Jesus was clear throughout the six-plus hour day, Coyle said. So was Brother Don’s emphasis on how prayer can move people “fully into their Catholic self.”

“To me, it was very true to Vatican II, referring to the person becoming whole in faith, in touch with their inner life, addressing the fears of life [ and answering the question], ‘What am I supposed to bring to the Cross?’” Coyle said of the Nov. 3 event.

Loving Deeper

Brother Bisson is based in the Marist Brothers Center, Esopus, N.Y. He holds graduate degrees in liturgy, spirit, spirituality and transpersonal psychology, which focuses on spiritual self-development. He earned a doctor of ministry degree at the Pacific School of Religion, specializing in spiritual direction and Jungian psychology.

With more than 90 live recordings available, Brother Don is internationally recognized for his lectures, workshops and retreats on Christian spirituality and Jungian psychology.

The conference drew 75 participants from around the Diocese and beyond including religious, spiritual directors and chaplains.

Throughout the day, they listened attentively as Brother Don offered four, hour-long talks on the importance of prayer in the lives of the faithful. Each presentation was followed by journaling, silent reflection and small group discussion.

In the talks, he urged listeners to “take the risk of getting on the road,” embracing silence with contemplative prayer as the vehicle to connect with God.

Such prayer, he said, offers the opportunity to “get rid of the things we are more attached to than God, who consoles, [and a] God who gives compassion and disturbs us so we can love deeper.”

The quietude offered by contemplative prayer fills the “hunger for people looking for truth” and peace in “these tumultuous times,” Brother Don said.

People suffering from anxiety and fear need “anchors, places of depth and tradition. People want to heal the holes in their heart, their inner wounds. The best way to do that,” he said, “is to center themselves on Christ.”

Seeking the grace to change in this direction is admittedly not easy, he said. “The best way to do that is to realize that the true self is never finished. It is not static. You can’t say, ‘Maybe by age 75 I’ll get it,’ and go on cruise control.”

In centering oneself on Christ, Brother Don said, “there is no cruise control, only an emerging reality that unfolds as God gives us our true identity.”

In Reflection

Coyle called the day a meaningful experience. “I don’t want to just file it away and lose it,” he said. “It offered a greater understanding of the human journey with Christ through spirituality” making a real case, he said, “that God loves you where you are at.”

SunHwan Spriggs, a member of St. Paul Episcopal Church, Chatham, is a spiritual director and hospital chaplain who, like Coyle, attends the spirituality conference yearly. She said she was especially drawn to this year’s conference because of the subject and the presenter. Spriggs said Brother Don’s insights gave her a “different language to use” with those who seek her counsel.

“I had an intense summer with a chaplaincy internship of 585 hours in 11 weeks,” Spriggs said. “I heard so many good things about Brother Don, and I needed a respite. I needed to drink water again. Hearing him was comforting and nurturing.”

Mercy Sister Maureen Conroy said the sentiments of Coyle and Spriggs reflect Brother Don’s reputation.  “He is deep into the spiritual life, the contemplative life in prayer. He has really studied the mystics in depth, and his humility is very real and honest.”

“He’s a great inspiration,” said Sister Maureen, who along with Mercy Sister Maureen Christensen and Sister of St. Joseph Trudy Ahern, are co-directors of the Upper Room Spiritual Center. “He gets to the heart of the matter in a world that is so out of focus.”