August 21, 2020

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Teresa Venatta

Pandemic, befriending God, and spiritual direction

Teresa VenattaAs we grapple with the consequences and how to “be” in a time of pandemic, we suddenly find ourselves with more expendable time on our hands.

Even for those who continue to work as before, many of our usual social activities are unavailable or limited. We have extra time to “waste.” Is this blessing or burden? Or both? If we cannot or should not spend time with our family and friends like we used to, where can we go for fellowship?

Maybe this time can be a blessing in the sense that we now have the occasion to cultivate our friendship with God or as Henri Nouwen says in his book, Following Jesus, we can learn to “waste time with Jesus.” The simple awareness that God desires our friendship and Jesus wants us to “waste time” with him is a good place to start.

If we take the time to sit with that reality, it is rather mind blowing to think that the Creator of the universe desires us, chooses us, offers mutual knowing and the full acceptance that true friendship provides. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that we are created and established in God’s friendship (#355). The thing about friendships is that they will ultimately change us.

Remember how our parents cautioned us to choose our friends wisely, knowing how friendships can influence our decisions. Scripture itself has advice on how to choose friends: “The righteous should choose their friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prv 12:26).

Just imagine how a true friendship with our Lord could influence and guide our everyday decisions. But, where do we start and who can help us explore what befriending God looks like? Through Scripture and tradition, we discover that our Creator delights in us and invites us to dwell with God.

The Church offers us support and guidance through the Mass, sacraments, and countless programs to find ways to listen to and sit with God. We are continually invited to feel God’s presence in our lives and to discern God’s personal call.

But sometimes it’s nice to have a “soul friend” on this inner journey toward befriending God—and just maybe this companionship could be in the form of a spiritual director. Even in these times of pandemic uncertainty there has been a steady interest in the timeless ministry of spiritual direction. Perhaps it is actually a direct result of these strange times and the isolation that has happened as we have sheltered-in-place. Our heart’s desire for a friendship with the one who created us and knows us is more exposed.

What does this friendship look like as Catholic/Christians within our new normal, and where is God calling us in the middle of this pandemic? Spiritual direction can be just the space to wrestle with these questions. Spiritual direction can most generally be explained as the ministry of spiritual accompaniment. It is an ongoing and regular opportunity to reflect out loud on who and where God is in our lives.

The spiritual director is our exclusive companion and represents the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a safe place to vulnerably share our burdens and our blessings with our Lord, knowing that we are being heard in an embrace of love and acceptance.

Like in all true friendships, this place of honesty and vulnerability is not always comfortable—the genuine self-awareness that good friendships can uncover sometimes makes us squirm. Good friends always challenge us to be our best.

So what does the ministry of spiritual direction look like in the middle of a pandemic? Initially, we relied on Zoom technology or phone conversations for directors and directees to “meet.” For some of our more vulnerable population, this is still the best method. If it seems wise to meet in person, all of the spiritual directors on the archdiocesan registry are taking recommended precautions and respecting safe social distancing.

God is always calling us to friendship and relationship. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a quiet place to reflect on that call? Spiritual direction is a ministry just waiting for you to jump in.
 

(Teresa Venatta is a spiritual director and discernment companion for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. She can be reached at spiritualdirection@archindy.org.)

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