Friendship as Spiritual Discipline

(Originally written as a Gathering Voices post on April 8, 2011)


As I type these words, I’m sitting in a Catholic retreat center in Saint Louis with two dear friends/colleagues.  The official purpose of this meeting of the minds is a writing retreat (we’re chewing on something that has the potential to be pretty exciting!).  Computers are out, keys clicking a symphony of ideas – and we really are getting some serious work done.

Yet, in many ways, the real work is happening aside from the writing.  We laugh.  We feast. We pad around in bare feet for late-night conversation.  Words ebb and flow, dancing from silly to vulnerable and back again.  We dream out loud.  Exhausted, we sleep hard so we can get up and do it all again.  This is the labor of soul friends.

Friends have always been important to me, and at the same time, friendship has often been difficult.  As an “army brat”, moving from place to place, I learned early on that friendships can swiftly evolve or end and take lots of work to maintain – especially over geographical distance.  Often, it was easier to just move on.

As a minister, I’ve moved with the same sort of frequent irregularity that is becoming more and more characteristic of young adults across the board.  Consequently, I have sometimes found myself living in a new place, isolated except for the rich tapestry of friendships that exist beyond my physical locale.  But I haven’t always reached for the tapestry.  Hiding behind my “introvert badge”, I’ve instead savored my isolation, even wallowed in it – only to discover somewhere down the road that (go figure!) my spirit was literally starving.

I’m beginning to understand that friendships aren’t “just” friendships.  Friendships (and the work of cultivating them) are a form of spiritual discipline, just like prayer or scripture reading or mindful eating.  When I don’t pray, my spirit suffers.  When I don’t spend time reading the Word, my spirit/mind become impoverished.  When I don’t eat mindfully, my spirit/body become stressed and broken.  And when I don’t practice the art of friendship, my spirit begins to turn in on itself.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in this.  The friends who journey alongside me need this too.  It is part of the human mold, this yearning to be connected in meaningful relationship.  So now, we carve out time.  One small group of soul friends meets every fall, another meets for both business and relationship twice a year, and this trio will meet each spring.  We stay in conversation via social media throughout the year, but we also need this time set apart to laugh and cry and dream “in the flesh”.

While, to a casual observer, there’s nothing about these gatherings that screams “work”, this is holy work all the same.  It is part of our vocation (not just as ministers, but as Christians) to be the best friends we can be…and that requires practice!

Speaking of which, my friends are waiting and it’s time to get back to work…

  • Who are your soul-friends (friends who walk with you on your journey through life)?
  • How can the Church help us to cultivate deeper, life-enriching friendships?
  • What other seemingly-mundane activities could actually be spiritual disciplines?

Forgive Us Our Trespasses…

(This was originally written for Gathering Voices – The Thoughtful Christian Blog, a blog which I highly recommend you check out in the near future!)


Having grown up in a border city, it is safe to say that I know more (at least experientially) about the US/Mexico border than your average Midwesterner.  So, when I went to our local ministerial association meeting this week (knowing that the topic was immigration and border issues), I was attending in order to be supportive of the presenters and the people affected by our immigration policies.  I didn’t anticipate that I would learn much and I certainly didn’t expect to have my mind blown.


Luckily, a mindset tinged with arrogance is just rigid enough to be broken open…


There was lots of information presented that was new to me.  I’m most familiar with the stretch of border that runs between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, but the presenters had attended a program in San Diego/Tijuana.  The program, run through the Daniel F. Romero Center for Border Ministries, provides immersion opportunities in Tijuana as well as space/language for theological reflection about immigration and the economic disparity that exists between the US and Mexico.


The stories shared during our meeting piqued my interest and tugged at my heart, but for some reason what really got me was a single photograph of an official sign on the border.  The sign reads:  US Property – No Trespassing.


Trespassing When I saw the sign, the word “trespassing” struck me like lightning.  I’ve long been familiar with the language of the immigration debate: illegal, alien, undocumented, migrant, immigrant, and so on.  I’ve heard the arguments back and forth – the position of scarcity (“those people are taking our jobs, our resources, our money”), the position of abundance and welcome (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”), the Hebrew Bible mandates for welcoming the stranger and caring for the alien (passages like Exodus 22:21-24 and Hebrews 13:2).  But for some reason I’d never connected “illegal immigration” with trespassing.


Personally, I have always been more swayed by the position of abundance and those passages from the Hebrew Bible.  In my mind, immigration and our treatment of “the other” has always been about justice and the dignity of all people as children of God, yet justice, dignity and abundance don’t seem to be values universally claimed by those who claim the name of Christ.  Finding the language needed to explain myself to Christians who are passionately against undocumented immigrants has always been difficult for me – but now that I’ve seen that border sign, I think I’ve found another track, something so basic that all stripes of Christians know it in their bones:  the Lord’s Prayer.


If, at its core, this immigration debate is about trespassing (as that official border sign asserts), then it makes sense that we followers of Christ would contemplate the issues and people involved in light of the prayer that he taught his followers.  As a person committed to thoughtful Christianity, I won’t come down and say that you must come to the same conclusion to which I have come (I know my own tendency towards arrogance well enough to see the danger and hypocrisy in that).  But I do hope that each Sunday, as we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we all might take a moment to meditate upon the lives of the undocumented immigrants who live amongst us – and use our holy imagination to contemplate what such forgiveness could look like if we (and they) were to live it out in the world.