Spiritual Friendship

Written by on January 21, 2011

Over the past couple weeks I have been in both the Calgary area and the Chicago area hosting Facilitator Training Retreats for Emerging Journey facilitators. They are now half-way through facilitating the eight month spiritual formation & discipleship process in their church and have lots to share about how their groups are going and what they are anticipating as they finish up the process. It has been a rich time. The themes of community and friendship have particularly struck me over the course of these facilitator trainings. It is quite a challenge to live out the biblical vision of “a life together” given the conditions we live in today. One of the concrete ways…

…in which we can learn to live this “life together” in the midst of this individualistic culture is through the practice of friendship. Spiritual friendship does not naturally grow out of the fast-paced, competitive, and isolated lives so many of us live. In reality, our professional priorities and our household busy-ness so often stand against the cultivation of deep friendship.  Yet, as we pay attention to and allow space for the common sharing, honoring, and enjoying of life, something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us.  Eugene Peterson insightfully describes our deep need in these days for fellow travelers along way of following Jesus:

Each of us has contact with hundreds of people who never look beyond our surface appearance. We have dealings with hundreds of people who the moment they set eyes on us begin calculating what use we can be to them, what they can get out of us. We meet hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgment, and then slot us into a category so that they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are; and if we’re in constant association with them, we become less. And then someone enters into our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what is deepest within us. A friend.[i]

The tale of an individual human life is too often told as a sequence of independent and unshared moments. And our hearts cry out. We yearn to know and be known more intimately. We desire deeper, more enduring and meaningful connections. And without these sorts of friendships our good intentions for spiritual ‘self-improvement’ will not materialize into mature lives of growing up in Christ.  In the 12th century classic Spiritual Friendship, Aelred of Rievaulx remarked, “Friendship heightens the joys of prosperity and mitigates the sorrows of adversity by dividing and sharing them. Hence, the best medicine in life is a friend.” So, with whom are you traveling on this journey of growing up into Christ? Who are the people with whom you are learning to live a life together? Who are your spiritual friends?

[i] Eugene Peterson, Leap over a Wall, (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1997), 54.

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