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Take a deep breath: spiritual direction during pandemic

At a recent visit to my doctor, I asked: “Dr. S., what do the words spiritual direction mean to you?” She stretched her arms out wide and responded, “That’s a huge topic. There are so many faith traditions. Now — take a deep breath.” In talking with Sisters of Providence ministering as spiritual directors, I discovered Dr. S. had it right — huge topic, all faith traditions have some form of spiritual direction, and spiritual direction lets a person take a deep breath — to recognize where God’s light is shining through their lives.

God’s light

Spiritual director Sister Marsha Speth has been meeting with some of her directees remotely during the past year.

What do the words spiritual direction mean to you? Spiritual Director Sister Marsha Speth, SP, defines the process “as focused conversation with another exploring the action of God in a person’s life.” The use of the word “direction” is misleading. The “director” doesn’t tell another what to do; rather, through conversation and prayer, the person seeking spiritual direction reviews life events — ordinary, sad, happy, challenging, traumatic — in order to recognize God’s presence in all of these. Sister Marsha relishes the moment in the conversation when “a shaft of God’s light,” the recognition of God’s presence in the here and now, overcomes a person. This gift of light brings comfort, sometimes challenge, sometimes insight. It always brings a sense of new life. (Take a deep breath. Let the light shine through.)

Another spiritual director, Sister Mary Montgomery, SP, echoes that experience. “For me spiritual direction is a blessed encounter with the Divine. The ‘ah-ha’ moments of light breaking through, of energy, new life and of love are refreshing for body, mind and spirit. It’s like a tune up for my spiritual life which affects everything.” (Take a deep breath. Let the light shine through.)

Adjustments

Wouldn’t these very personal, intimate conversations between two people need to take place face to face? Evidently not. COVID-19 changed the how, not the what, of spiritual direction. Sister Marsha let each directee choose to continue meeting or not. Initially most said they’d wait until the pandemic was over. Gradually, more and more called to say they needed spiritual direction now more than ever. Where was God in these times of loss, isolation from loved ones and deprivation of worship with others? Where was that “shaft of light” to allay fears and frustrations? So, Sister Marsha continued the spiritual direction relationships via phone calls, Zoom, FaceTime. (Take a deep breath. Let the light shine through.)

Addressing a need

Sister Paula Damiano, SP, co-director of Providence Spirituality and Conference Center and a spiritual director, related the same experience. “During the first month of the pandemic, we had very few requests from persons seeking spiritual direction. However, things changed fairly quickly. Once people became aware that this would go on for some time, the email requests began to come in. Directees started sharing insights of how important quiet is in helping put life in its proper perspective. Others talked about suffering and loss and the promise of resurrection. Even though the sessions were virtual, the quality of sharing was the same.” (Take a deep breath. Let the light shine through.)

The following describes Sister Paula Modoff’s current experience of spiritual direction. “During the pandemic, two of my spiritual companions and I have been in regular contact. I have had sporadic contact with two others. All of our meetings have been via phone, email or Zoom. The consistent light is that after sharing the challenges and difficulties of the virus, all four persons expressed deep gratitude for what they have.” (Take a deep breath. Let the light shine through.)

The light enters

Have these virtual sessions of spiritual direction been life-giving for directees? Nancy Olson, a Providence Associate whose spiritual director is Sister Marsha Speth, gives this witness.

“In Sister Paula’s virtual presentation on Rumi during ‘Coffee with the Mystics,’ she shared a quote that resonated and keeps resonating with me. ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ The act of articulating a spiritual struggle (wound) in direction breaks it open. Sister Marsha’s deep listening and responses are sometimes comforting and sometimes challenging but always shed light on the situation. Ruminating and introspection do not, for me, lead to enlightenment. Having Sister Marsha sit, listen, pray and offer her gentle guidance brings the matter up into the light. And once the struggle has been shown the light, the resolution begins.”

Imitating Dr. S., let’s open our arms out wide, take a deep breath and let the light shine through.

(Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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