Virtually Present: Spiritual Guidance From a Distance.

By Rod Corcoran

Over the last 6 weeks, I have spent considerably more time online using digital platforms to communicate in a variety of settings than ever before. This has become not only our new norm here in Europe, but also globally. What has come as a surprise to me is how many of those conversations have felt meaningful. There have been many powerful moments of prayer and sharing with other believers. I have engaged in honest dialogue with people who are searching for the truth. There have also been conversations where I’ve had meaningful exchanges with other leaders regarding difficult organizational decisions.

Before Covid-19, one of my underlying assumptions of pastoring and leading was that to be a good pastor required a personal touch or face-to-face meetings. My assumption was that to be a good spiritual guide I needed to be physically present. I had never challenged this assumption head-on before. I did not need to, proximity had been a luxury. Today the luxury of proximity is one that we cannot afford.

Hence, the question I formed out of my new experiences was: “How was meaningful interaction taking place in these virtual interactions and how do I continue to develop them in frequency and quality?”

In light of these questions, here are a few of the lessons that I’ve learned from the last few weeks of meeting online with friends, colleagues, family, students, and many others.

Be Prepared.

How we show up for a meeting is incredibly important. As the reality of Covid-19 was setting in, I spent some extra time paying attention to my spiritual and emotional state. Prayer times became more frequent, scripture became more potent and my general spiritual hunger increased. One of the prayers that I have prayed most mornings has been: “God, please offer me the strength and courage needed for this day. Help me to be present to your guiding and aware of the opportunities before me.”

The attention that I attached to my emotional, spiritual and even physical wellbeing has made a difference. It has helped me to come to these meetings with positivity, as well as the ability to be fully present with the people I am serving.

Be Contagious.

I’ve had to consider how I could connect and “be contagious” in a redemptive manner.  Emotional contagion is a term that relates to how an individual’s emotional state can influence the emotional state of others. This can also apply for groups of people where a single individual’s visible emotions can affect the entire group.

For example, if I am with someone who is well-grounded and self-aware emotionally, it will have a psychological effect on me. I may feel more resilient and positive about the situation. The reverse is also true. If I am with someone who is expressing negative emotions, it may have a transferring negative effect. Not only are emotions contagious for our psychological wellbeing, but also our physiological state. One researcher recently suggested emotional contagion is not only a concept for face-to-face gatherings but also applies to the virtual space. She alluded to the importance of our emotional state as we communicate through video conferencing.

In understanding emotional contagion and how it affects the social space that I share with people whether it is virtual or in person, I want to be prepared for every meeting. This preparation is a contract I underwrite with myself to arrive at the meeting with a committed to give my best to those I am serving.

Be Present.

Having a meaningful gathering in the virtual space requires us to be present. I have considered how this requires me to be deeply aware of my own emotional, spiritual, and physical state. I need to be willing to tend to my own needs before serving others. This may sound counter-intuitive, especially when my focus is to serve. However, the results of such a personal check-up can allow me to successfully bring focus to my head and my heart before a meeting. This is either by tending to my immediate needs and/or bracketing the issues that can wait. Taking moments for ourselves can have a powerful satisfying effect, as it can allow us to listen with intent in our meetings and be available to the people that we are interacting with.

Be Available. 

Last week I met with a group of young men. The crisis of Covid-19 has served as a catalyst for us to meet more often. While on the Zoom call, one man freely shared his struggle to come to faith. As a group of men, we listened with intent and offered our spiritual and emotional support for him. Interactions like these have me feeling hopeful for the future as we were able to serve this young man what he needed at that moment.

As we work through this crisis, we have a great opportunity to embody a message of hope to both those we currently serve, as well as our local communities. Our tools and techniques go beyond the technological capabilities that allow us to stay in communication. We have an opportunity to serve as people who are committed to adaptive leadership, and to be leaders who create a sense of stability in our response to the odd days for the people that we serve.

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