As a person who works for the church in the area of spiritual formation, I sometimes feel that my ministry calls me to be larger than life. At 5’, that’s a physical, as well as spiritual challenge.
All kidding aside, life and times of honest silence, regularly convince me that I am frail and fallible, and life’s challenges sometimes get me down. This is so, even though I have written and preached about the importance of recognizing the spiritual rhythms in our lives; of recognizing the need to let go as one of the ways we see God at work in our lives, as well as the more upbeat rhythms of naming and responding to God’s presence in a life of worship, justice and right living. I suspect that many church leaders (lay and otherwise) face this dilemma. How do we find the safe places to get the reorientation we need?
Some of us go to spiritual directors. I had one for eight years, until she retired. Going to see her was always a gift of grace. Just imagine, someone with a great knowledge of the Bible and of human complexity giving you an hour of grace filled, holy listening in which you were prodded to recognize and name God’s presence in your life, and then offering a suitable guiding scripture as an anchor for the next month of your life. Amazing grace!
I loved this experience, and yet, increasingly felt the imbalance of our relationship and longed for something more reciprocal. So, when she retired, I started researching the idea of spiritual friendship and looking around for a spiritual friend. A college chaplain directed me to the book, Soul Tending: Life Forming Practices for older Youth and Young Adults, where I learned about the long tradition, in the Christian church, of growing closer to God through spiritual friendship. Such friendship, like any other, includes sharing those things that are most important in our everyday lives, but also includes an intentional focus on each others faith journeys. Spiritual friends, whether they are young or not so young, practice the arts of holy listening and honest sharing with each other, knowing that God’s grace and guidance is there for all of us, and is a lifeline for us in our weakness.
The next resource I discovered was Spiritual Friendship: the Art of Being Friends With God and a few Others. The author has a Toronto based organization, Touchstone Ministries, though which he helps people become spiritual friends. What I found most helpful in his book was his description of the semi-annual retreats he had with his own long term spiritual friend, in which they would spend 2 days together in a quiet spot, catch up on each other’s lives, and then spend some time exploring a passage of Scripture together, then in silent contemplation, and then together again. They have developed a healthy rhythm of relaxation, fun, and spiritual work for these days.
After several years of being alert to the possibility of a spiritual friend, I have been blessed with one. We have been meeting, somewhat irregularly, for an hour or so at a time, to become spiritual friends, as well as finding shorter pockets of time for meaningful sharing and mutual burden bearing. When I shared the idea of the semi-annual retreat day with her, her eyes lit up, and she agreed with me that it sounded like good medicine to ground both of us more firmly in the gracious goodness and accompaniment of our loving and challenging God.