TGIF: Soul Friends…and right action vs right thinking

Friday January 25, 2019

What I am Thinking About

Most of us could say we have friends.  I don’t mean friends as Facebook defines it – I have over 1,000 of those people I am connected to for one reason or another.  But friends, folks who we hang out with every now and again.  The ones we laugh with, celebrate with, struggle with, grieve with…drop kids off at school with or ride bokes along the seashore with.

Friends are good, important, necessary for life.

And from those friends, we might have a couple of really good friends – the ones who know all of our baggage, have seen us at our best and worst and just keep on loving us. 


But there is this other category of friend.  The ones who really see us.  These are the friends that hear words and know the depth behind them.  They have wandered into dark places with us, not to bring us out but to sit alongside.  These friends know our heart’s longing, our spiritual centre, and can name when we are wandering too far from the place we need to be internally.  I call these soul friends.


What I am Grateful For

My soul friends.  I am extremely blessed to have forged several soul friends.  Some seem to be life-ers: we have been spiritual friends for most of my adult life and continue to walk closely together.  I have had seasonal soul friends – those without whom I would never have survived a particular phase or season of my life, but don’t share that closeness with any longer. 


I have weathered many storms with my soul friends, both as captain and passenger.  My soul friends have challenged me to do better, to live more faithfully, to press beyond what I think I am capable of…and they have reminded me to be gentle with myself. 


Spiritual friendships like these involve risk because of the level of vulnerability we bring and the trust we share.  I have been terribly hurt by my soul friends before, and I know I have caused harm.  But I will always choose to risk it – the reward of walking alongside brothers and sisters, siblings in this thing called life is just too great not to.


What Inspires Me


I have this one soul friend; I have referred to her as my “Nun” before – someone who is a friend, a guide, a companion, and so incredibly wise and deeply spiritual.  This week she shared some reflections with me, thoughts, wonderings, frustrations.  She pontificated along the lines of, What does it mean to live a spiritual life?  To walk faith as opposed to recite words on a Sunday morning.  The church through history has often slid too far into words: reciting creeds, memorizing doctrine, knowing the right things to say.  What about Jesus’ call to be disciples, that is, doers of love, or people of the word, more than just believers. 


Diana Butler Bass writes that Christianity is a deliberate choice with serious consequences (!).  It is a process of spiritual formation and discipline that is learned in community and takes time…a spiritual pathway of life built on transformative practices of love rather than doctrinal belief.[1]


I appreciate their press into right action, which is likely why I am a part of the United Church of Canada, a church with a long history of social action and community service (we didn’t earn the nickname “the NDP at prayer” for no reason).  However, I think that action compelled by the love of all people as precious children of God cannot exist without its rootedness in the word, in the traditions from which theology, doctrine, and creed is produced.


Knowing this friend well and having read much of Bass, I will assume that neither of them mean doing without thinking, that is, love without understanding, but I think too often we may consider one above the other (humans love to do that don’t they!?). 


My friend also wondered about how many religious institutions/churches became places that taught people what to believe as Christians, rather than empowering them to be Christians, following Jesus’ lead in the world.  We have both been thinking about this in terms of children especially.  There may be ample space in the congregational spaces we romp around in for adult folks to be led by their faith into good and loving works in the world, but how do we teach this to children?  Sometimes our children’s programs are only about the stories, the lessons and not about real spiritual development.  In teaching, do we place greater emphasis on right belief over right action?  I hope not in the programs I work/serve in.  If my own children have taught me nothing else (don’t worry, they have) it is that they have an immense capacity for holding mystery, awe, and depth alongside practical learning that translates into the way they encounter the world.


How I am Practicing my Faith


Life is busy: I have my vocational work, volunteer work, two children each with many activities, a husband that I really like to hang out with, extended family (some closer than others), community work, political involvement…not to mention I love to read, hike, ski, and I do yoga every day.  Sometimes (too often) connecting with friends falls too far down the list.  But what if we considered time with friends a spiritual practice? 


I practice my faith when I invest in these beautiful souls who choose to walk deeply with me.  I am better when I do.  My connection with the Divine is magnified, my feet are more firmly grounded, and my heart is happy.


If you are reading this, wondering if you are one of my soul friends, you likely are.  Thank you.


If you are reading this, dreaming of having a soul friend, pray about it.  Ask God for a spiritual companion, and then pay attention…they are likely closer than you think.

[1] Diana Butler Bass is an American commentator on religion, spirituality, and culture – check out more at