Amanda Dobson | Presenter and Spiritual Director | Dominican Center at Marywood, Grand Rapids, MI

What is presence in the age of Zoom?

What does it mean to be present on a Zoom call?

As a spiritual director, what does it mean when you cannot be physically present with your directee?

How do you practice when you no longer have access to your place of practice?

What is this mystery of presence anyway?

Ponderings in a Pandemic Year

These are several questions I have been pondering this past year-and-a-half, this year of pandemic, this year of Zoom. I have to admit, as co-facilitator, along with Sister Carmelita Switzer OP, I was very unsure if the Foundations in Spirituality course would work in a Zoom format. We had no idea what to expect. Would people sign up? Would they feel comfortable sharing over a computer screen? Would their internet connections work? And the deeper, quieter thought I mostly kept to myself: But I don’t like Zoom. This is about presence. This needs to be in person.

This past year has been one long exercise in letting go of the way I think things have to be and being delighted by how God shows up in unexpected places — even Zoom.

They signed up. It was the largest class Dominican Center had seen in years.

They shared. Both in small group break-out sessions and in the large group. And they were hungry for more. Zoom was not the great hindrance we feared it would be. Because of Zoom, we were able to have participants from Arizona, Mississippi, and even Canada, in addition to all over Michigan. One participant mentioned wanting to take this course for years, but her work and ministry commitments had made it impossible. Zoom allowed her to finally take the course. Another participant noted how nice it was not having to drive somewhere in ice and snow. As I sat in my cozy bedroom Zoom corner, Monday night after Monday night, I was starting to agree.

Many talked about how important this class had become for them during a year of isolation and lockdown. “An oasis in the desert,” one participant called it. “A lifeline,” said another, and “I feel like I have found my people.”

As a spiritual director, I still have to adjust to the reality that when the world fully opens back up, Dominican Center will not be open to me in the same way. When I left the campus for the last time, I did not know I was leaving the campus for the foreseeable future. Dominican Center had become a kind of home for me when I felt spiritually homeless; a most beloved sacred space of peace and prayer. There is some grief here, and as Rolheiser encourages in The Holy Longing, this is an important step and not to be skipped.

But I’ve also witnessed the birth of something this year: connection when it felt our world was coming apart; community in the midst of isolation; healing in a time of sickness; the flow of the Spirit during the lockdown. I am more convinced than ever that our programs are life-changing and that the Spirit continues to show up in unexpected places and exciting ways.

May we all have the courage to not cling to our ideas and preferred ways and places of how and where we think God works in the world. May we accept the spirit of the life we are in fact already living. Pray for us, Sisters, as we pray for you.

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Dominican Center Marywood is a ministry of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids