BEing Providence in the World
Editor’s note: Providence Associate Michelle Barrentine shares her experience of living out her Providence Associate commitment by serving others in her own daily life.
Love, Mercy, Justice. These expressions of the Providence charism of the Sisters of Providence can be lived out in so many different ways. As many ways as there are Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates (PAs). Volunteering our service is one way to promote and live out the charism of the Congregation we love and respect.
One way I live out my commitment as a Providence Associate is by my volunteer ministry with Beginning Experience International Ministry, Inc., (known simply as “BE” to those in the ministry).
Since 1974, Beginning Experience has offered a variety of grief resolution programs to serve those who have lost a marital relationship through divorce, separation or death, and for children of those losses. The ministry extends its works of listening, accompaniment and healing through teams scattered across the U.S., Canada, the UK and Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. Some think it odd that we put the divorced and separated together with the widowed, but at the core what those losses share is suffering that manifests itself uniquely for each person: grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, sorrow, depression, and other emotions and actions taken as a consequence of what each individual is feeling.
My volunteer service with Beginning Experience started before I made my first commitment as a Providence Associate in 2019. But I see clearly now how the two dovetail. For me, this was a providential encounter of BE and the Providence Associate program. After my husband died in 2010, I came to my “BE Weekend” (we try not call it a “retreat” because it is a peer-led program, without a formal retreat master). I joined the team in late 2011 and have been, in Henry Nouwen’s words, a “wounded healer” ever since, serving in various capacities, helping myself while helping others like me.
Living the commitment
BE links to my Providence Associate role as I offer: LOVE — by just being with the suffering person; MERCY — by allowing that person to express her or his suffering fully in a unique way; and JUSTICE — by helping the person regain a life where she or he can again love self, others and God. The Providence charism of the Sisters of Providence is made known to suffering souls through the Beginning Experience as I volunteer and “Listen. Accompany. Heal.”
As part of my Providence Associate commitment, I am available to listen to those who have lost a spouse. I make no claims of being a counselor or mental health professional, so neither I nor any BE team member gives advice. Nor do we claim to know exactly what any other person is going through. But when other well-meaning people ask, “Are you over it yet?,” or say, “There are other fish in the sea,” or they hand you tissues as if to say, “You can stop crying now,” I am the person who will lovingly just listen to your story and accompany you on your grief journey so you can begin to heal.
Providence amid suffering
I am impelled and empowered to BE Providence in our world amidst chaos and suffering. I can thus honor Divine Providence and further God’s loving plans for you and me (to paraphrase the Providence Associate’s Spiritual Unit 5).
We pray in the words of Sister Josephine Stewart, SSMN, co-founder of the Beginning Experience International Ministry:
“… Give us to drink of your spirit of inspiration and give us the energy to follow this inspiration in your ministry. Send your Holy Spirit to heal our brokenness and our errors. Direct us on our journey to do your will. Bless us with abundance.”