First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Light One Candle
Finding God in Spiritual Friendships
By TONY ROSSI

A few years ago, The Christophers published a News Note entitled “Building Spiritual Friendships,” and I still get emails from people asking for a copy whenever we mention it on our “Christopher Closeup” radio show.

Featured in the pamphlet is a section about the book “Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters,” which went on to win a Christopher Award. Jessica Mesman Griffith is the book’s co-author, so when I interviewed her recently about her blog, called “Sick Pilgrim,” I asked why she thinks the topic remains popular.

“Sick Pilgrim” is grounded in the idea that we are all pilgrims, struggling with our own personal challenges, trying to make it to our eternal home. That journey becomes easier when we have others with whom we can travel and share our burdens. With a thriving Facebook group that prays together nightly via video streaming, Ms. Griffith has seen first-hand the power of spiritual friendship.

She said, “We’ve become so shunted off into our little corners, we seek community online and often don’t find it in meaningful ways. ‘Sick Pilgrim’ evolved into this place where people are making those kinds of friendships. We’re watching people around the country come together, going to Mass together, going to dinner together. All of this work grew out of ‘Love and Salt.’ Writing that book and having that friendship was an epiphany for me, that God comes to us and tends us through the hands of others. And we need those hands!”

While spiritual friendship might seem to be a feminine topic, the “Sick Pilgrim” community is defying gender stereotypes. Griffith’s “Sick Pilgrim” co-founder, Jonathan Ryan, is a self-described “Midwest lumberjack dude (who) loves sports as much as I love Jane Austen.”

“In my own life, I’ve been hurt, so my inclination is to keep those walls up between my friends and people who are around me,” he said. “‘Sick Pilgrim’ has broken down those walls for me. But I’ve also seen it in the group. We have tons of guys in the group.”

Friendships have developed between both men and women. Ryan said, “I think it comes back to the core friendship with Jess and I. We’re modeling this chaste, spiritual friendship that’s been a beautiful thing in both our lives.”

A key aspect of spiritual friendship is trying to bring light into the other person’s life, especially when they’re enduring darkness. But Ms. Griffith notes that bringing light doesn’t mean putting on a happy face at all times.

While she doesn’t advocate reveling in the darkness, she asserts, “What do we have to offer people when they are experiencing extreme suffering? When your baby has died? When your marriage is ending? There are times when we just need to sit together in that darkness and let God move, to not try to move too quickly into the light or into some platitude (like), ‘God never closes a door without opening a window.’ That can be deeply hurtful to someone who’s experiencing spiritual abandonment and agony. I want to create that space, where if you’re not ready to move into the light, let me sit with you there in the darkness for a while and maybe I can bring that light to you if you can’t find it yourself.”

Rossi is director of communications for The Christophers.

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