Social Distancing and Spiritual Direction in the Age of COVID-19

Social Distancing and Spiritual Direction in the Age of COVID-19 March 14, 2020

Social distancing is a great way to avoid spreading or contracting the COVID-19 virus, but we can still have spiritual direction sessions. We live in the digital age, so we can meet by phone or online for now. It may feel odd to avoid hugs and handshakes — and even church — but it's better than being sick!The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is changing how we have meaningful conversations and gatherings — yes, even spiritual direction sessions for a while. Leading experts in the fields of immunology and medicine are advising us to practice “social distancing,” which merely means you are very careful about getting physically close to people when in groups or crowds. It does slow down the spread of the virus, which is great, but we still need to be able to communicate with one another, especially with anxiety running so high. We need our therapists, doctors, teachers, pastors, and spiritual directors.

For my practice of spiritual direction, I offer a modified form of social distancing: I meet individuals in direction sessions or in the few tiny groups that I lead at my office in Phoenix (provided we’re all feeling fine) and honor all people’s physical space by not touching them (which I don’t ordinarily do anyway). And for anyone I work with face-to-face who wants to instead meet with me by phone or online, I’m offering that as an option.

Of course, for those of who already meet with me online, this is not really an issue! We’ve been doing the work at a social distance for several years.

To ensure that I stay as healthy as possible, I am choosing to stay away from large crowded places, even church worship, for the time being. I confess the anxiety I feel is a mix of reasonable self-care — when I get even garden variety viruses, I seem to stay sick for a long time — and recognizing that I or any of us could unknowingly be a carrier of a bug and I don’t want to put anyone at risk.

Social distancing can be difficult. I feel social pressure, especially in church circles, to shake hands or hug or generally get physically closer to people (some complete strangers!) than I am naturally comfortable doing, whether there’s flu going around or not. Do I feel weird about this? Yes. My church is very “huggy” and I’ve been told that some people see me as “standoffish” when I greet their anticipated hugs with a handshake.

I share this with you because I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to feel shame about social distancing, especially with a pandemic upon us. So, I’m going to stay weird! We all have different needs. If you are feeling similar pressure to “pass the peace” or grant hugs, just know you are not alone.

Stay close to home when you can and do that whole hand-washing-and not-touching-your-face thing you’ve heard so much about. That’s about as much control as we have. The rest we must simply accept.

I wish you good health and low anxiety in this very unusual time of a pandemic. I hope you feel the comfort of God’s presence in the midst of the storm. And if you need spiritual direction, there’s no time like the present to contact one of the many spiritual directors who do online sessions — you can find them in Spiritual Director International’s Seek and Find Guide at www.sdiworld.org.


Looking for More?

Want to try spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees — regardless of where you live. I can work by phone, Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net or visit www.teresablythe.net.

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