With a focus on vocations this month of October, Franciscan Sister Anne Marie Lom, Coordinator of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity House of Prayer and Spiritual Director for young adults who are Spiritus and FOCUS Missionaries, as well as men and women from a variety of parishes, answers a few questions on her ministry.
Do you think young adults have misconceptions about Spiritual Direction or fully appreciate its value?
In the last several years, young adults seem to have increased understanding of Spiritual Direction. They talk about it with each other and it is introduced and explained in many young adult gatherings and groups. I find misconceptions most frequently about the topic/process of discernment and how a person visualizes/imagines God.
Discernment: In my experience, God does not have a preordained plan that we have to try to figure out with agony and struggle. God gives us desires, confirmations, gifts, talents, and good companions. The directee gradually learns to appreciate the stirrings of the Divine and to notice how God is directing their growth. The Spiritual Director listens carefully, gently corrects misunderstandings, and gives feedback on the content that the directee presents.
Image of God: Some people grow up with a fearful, overpowering, judgmental image of God. This image of God has difficulty when someone is trying to relate to God as a loving parent, a nurturing and caring Presence or a life-long partner in love.
What would you like young adults to know about Spiritual Direction?
I would like young adults to know that Spiritual Direction can be part of a life-long process of prayer and reflection. It is not only for discerning a life call! Spiritual Direction is for the single, the married, the religious, the priest, the divorced, the recovering addict, those tempted by or who have completed an abortion, those recovering from an eating disorder, and anyone else who wants to grow in their relationship with the Divine.
In order for spiritual direction to be fruitful, the directee needs to commit to a regular prayer practice according to their state in life and faith tradition.
I would also like them to know that they can/should interview the Spiritual Director before they actually begin the relationship. This time of “getting to know each other” is valuable to discern whether there can be a good working relationship. The Spiritual Director should be receiving spiritual direction themselves. The Spiritual Director is called to attend to their own spiritual life and growth as well as tending to others.
What do you find most enlivening in your own spiritual life about providing spiritual direction to young women?
Most enlivening is the young woman’s eagerness to grow, to give herself completely in love to another, and to share willingly with her friends and companions. Most often I find young women eager to give of themselves completely in the consecrated life or in marriage or in some type of service in the single life. This generosity gives me great joy.
How do you see spiritual direction, whether for Spiritus or, say, a student at UW Oshkosh complementing their ministry or studying?
A college student or a person in a year of service and ministry is in a prime position to grow spiritually and to share their spiritual journey with a trained spiritual director or a spiritual companion who listens well. College students are often searching for “what is next” and spiritual direction is a blessed time to explore God’s life call both to lifestyle and career.
A year of service is another time the young adult takes a long and loving look at life choices and ministry. Spiritual Direction complements their journey as they harmonize their ministry and exploration of the vocation to single, married, priesthood or consecrated religious life.
Spiritual Direction is not for an elite few though. It is for everyone who wants to grow in relationship to God, others, and creation.
Hopefully we’ll be getting back to in person visits soon. In the meantime, what are the limitations and/or advantages of virtual spiritual direction?
I find virtual spiritual direction helpful because it eliminates travel time and may even leave more time for reflection and prayer. An hour or hour and a half drive both ways add up to more travel time than some have available. Virtual spiritual direction focuses the dialogue between director and directee and facilitates the giving of handouts (shared screen) and other aids for reflection.
Some limitations to virtual direction can be lack of privacy if the directee doesn’t have a suitable place to speak freely. They can be limited by space, available technology, or frequent interruptions by others or animals during the session. The director can’t see all the body language and subtle postures that give clues to deeper feelings or unspoken issues.
When praying with a directee, it seems in-person proximity is better for atmosphere and concentration.
All that being said, virtual direction has been a blessing during the COVID pandemic. Remaining in touch is vital to spiritual and mental health. Even before the pandemic, I used virtual direction for homebound clients or when weather did not permit travel.
What would a person talk about in a Spiritual Direction session?
This is an often unexpressed apprehension! We talk about you, your relationship to yourself, your prayer, your faith tradition, your image of God and/or anything else you bring to the session. The session is for the directee; the director doesn’t determine the agenda.
If anyone would like to contact Sister Anne Marie for a session, our Community webpage, fscc-calledtobe.org allows for a message to Sister Julie Ann who will forward it to Sister Anne Marie Lom.
Sister can also be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward: Sister Anne Marie will be offering a Continuing Education Course, “The Art of Spiritual Companioning” in spring of 2021. It may be a virtual course or face-to-face depending on the status of COVID. It is being offered in 5 sessions of 3 hours each through the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. The participants are led through topics and exercises of listening, mental health, self-care, and reflection while they engage in practicing the art of Spiritual Companioning with each other.