Monday, May 4, 2020

Spiritual Direction in Pandemic

It was the third Monday of March, and I had been ready to drive out that afternoon for a session with my spiritual director until she emailed me the day before. She asked whether we might Skype or FaceTime or just telephone our Monday meeting. The members of her religious community had expressed concern about her leaving the house and meeting her directees face to face.

I knew I would miss our routines of greeting one another and getting settled into one of the small parlors at another community house across town. There was always the initial banter with Grace. If the weather was hard, she would comment on it. I would settle my coat on the back of an armchair across from her. There was something cozy about the two of us settling into our places, both of us in our sixties, one a nun, the other an ex-Jesuit. We each knew the territory.

That had been the comfort with Grace. We shared a vocabulary. We each knew when we used certain words why that word had occurred to us. We could reassure the other that that was exactly the word to use to describe that reaction in prayer. We didn’t have to translate.

When Grace started each session by lighting a candle and invoking the Holy Spirit, she wasn’t just staging. The space around us and between us would be holy as a result of what we were going to say, what we were going to hear. That was Grace’s conviction. 

I feared this lovely ritual of spiritual friends would be flattened on my iPhone screen.

A woman who had worked in many retreat settings, Grace was adept at sitting with individuals and hearing about their prayer. Her training and her temperament worked together for the ease of retreatants removed from routine and family. Grace was patient about letting people figure out how they wanted to talk about their experience.

Now here Grace and I were on one another’s screens undertaking our first FaceTime session.

Grace lit a candle that I could not see although I watched her strike the match on the side of the box. She prayed for the Holy Spirit to be with us.

I was relieved to be with her again. I suspected the wariness on her face about this procedure mirrored a little of my own. Would this work? At a time when I really needed someone familiar, I kept wondering where to focus my gaze. I didn’t want to seem to be staring at her.

She laughed a little. I laughed just a bit.

What could go wrong?

“Tell me about your retreat.”

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