Spiritual Friendship, Magi-style
In the twelfth century, the English abbot Aelred of Rievaulx wrote the foundational treatise On Spiritual Friendship. Aelred made the case that one of the great practices of the Christian life is being transformed by the presence of a spiritual friend.
He taught that through friendship we are sanctified, perfected into Christ. In one place he says, "The best medicine in life is a friend." And also, "… human beings are equal and as it were, collateral, and that there is in human affairs neither a superior nor an inferior, a characteristic of true friendship."
Tom is one such friend for me. He is a source of great spiritual encouragement. He is a defender of my soul. He nourishes my life and brings me both challenges and joy. Tom has helped me be a better minister of the gospel, and has advised me on my spiritual life.
Did I mention that Tom does not identify as a Christian? Not only does he not identify as a Christian, he most closely aligns with Unitarians and is unapologetically secular and progressive. Additionally, he is a promoter of liberal thought through his religious writings, primarily as a member of the board of contributors for USA Today.
You can find Tom Krattenmaker all over the Internet, if you want to.
Celebrating Advent values
We are in the liturgical season of Advent. In my household, this is one of the most beloved times of the year. My wife Aimee (who is the liturgical curator of our community) makes sure that our home reflects Advent values. Our family enjoys a small Advent ceremony every evening. We practice hope. We celebrate Christ's coming.
One of Aimee's practices is to construct a simple stable scene on our fireplace mantle out of rocks and driftwood. In the stable sits an empty manger with only the companionship of a lone donkey. Around the living room are placed the other characters of the nativity story. Throughout the Advent season these characters "journey" across the room to arrive at the stable in harmony with the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph arrive on Christmas Eve. Jesus appears on Christmas morning. And the Shepherds join the scene on Christmas mid-day.
Lastly, on the feast of Epiphany (January 6), the Magi (wise men) arrive. They are odd characters aren't they? On several levels, they are so incongruent with the rest of Christ's birth story that we can only assume that their appearance is not only historically accurate, but also theologically necessary.
Who were the Magi anyway? They appear to be spiritual scholars of some kind who—prompted by a strange star—went on a great quest to discover the divine story. They were not Christians (there were no Christians as such at this point in history). There is nothing in the text to suggest they were Jews either. They were stargazers from the East. Were they Zoroastrians? Astrologers? We do not know. But they are most assuredly spiritual "exotics" within the narrative of Jesus. They stand out.
You know what is most shocking to me about the Magi? How comfortable Matthew—the Jewish disciple of Jesus—was to include the Magi in his Gospel. And more importantly, how delighted Jesus, through the inspiring Holy Spirit, was to welcome these spiritual foreigners into their nativity story..
Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.