I’m giving some thought today to spiritual formation; specifically, the practices that are part of the process of formation. It is important for me to remind myself that formation, especially spiritual formation (in the image of Christ) is multi-faceted. There is no one device that God uses in the process of his creation being restored into his image. With this qualifying concession, there are definitive facets found in every journey of formation in the image of Christ.
“In our youth, we don’t realize how important a spiritual practice is; when middle-aged, we claim to be too busy to practice; and when we are old, it’s too late.” –A saying of the Kagyu Tribe of Kenya.
I started reflecting a few days ago on Jesus’ teaching from the Gospel of John (John 15:9-17). There is so much richness in this short paragraph, I think I could meditate upon it for a lifetime. What has stuck with me for the past day or so is Jesus’ words about friendship. He redefines the relationship with his disciples with the declaration, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command… Now you are my friends.”
“Spiritual practices at their best are practices of friendship.” –Trevor Hudson
My thoughts are still raw and a bit unpolished, but here’s what I’m thinking.
Friendship is more than a casual acquaintance. Friendship implies knowing one another.
I think to know someone requires effort, and within this sphere of effort is many things. Attentiveness rises to the top of these many things. Knowing someone, more than a casual acquaintance, is impossible without being attentive to him or her. Moreover, attentiveness requires presence. One cannot be attentive to another without sharing physical space with them. Attentiveness requires time and space in the present presence of another person. Relative to Jesus’ words in the passage from John’s Gospel I am meditating upon, this might be an understanding of what Jesus meant when he referred to “laying one’s life down for a friend.” Certainly, there is prophetic intent of his own impending death, but I am sure there is broader inference for us to glean from those words as well.
Friendship requires dedication and practice. Friendships, true and lasting friendships, are not born overnight—they may begin overnight, but they are forged, tried, and tested in the crucible of time, space, joy, and pain. Together… one with another.
Conversations are explorations and revelations of selves learning and bonding together. These conversations are another critical spiritual practice and an unavoidable component of friendship. Again, real conversation requires attentiveness—the investment of all our faculties in the moment.
“Love of God proceeds from conversing with him; this conversation of prayer comes about through stillness, and stillness comes with the stripping away of the self.” –Isaac of Nineveh
When Jesus calls to us, “Be my friend,” this is the real invitation to the abundant and eternal life. This is true salvation. Every soul longs for the ultimate spiritual friend. Jesus is that friend, but even friendship with Jesus is not easy.
In the same way, any person may have thoughts, expectations, and hopes for a new (mortal) friend, we have similar thoughts about friend Jesus. In the same way, that time, attention, and being with one another dispels errant assumptions about our mortal friendships, the same is true in a budding relationship with Jesus. Also true is the attention, those time and space investments spent with one another creates bonding that secretes forgiveness in love. We are taught, “Love forgives a multitude of sin.” We are also taught, “Love does not demand its own way; love does not keep a record of wrongdoings, and love never gives up—love never fails” (1 Cor. 13). This is a friendship of the richest kind. This is a friendship of mutuality, a friendship willing to deny oneself in order that we might be made more through uniting with another. This is the invitation of Jesus.
Salvation is friendship. Salvation is more than rescue. It is love, and it requires practice and formation.