Dear Henri, Friends and Holy Imagination — Advent Week 3, Day 18


Henri Houwen and Jean Vanier, 1987

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. -James 5:7-11


Dear Henri,

There you are. With a good and proper friend. I love reading about you and Jean Vanier. I like to imagine the kind of pair you guys would have been, what you would have laughed about, what stories you would have swapped with each other.

I wrote a little bit yesterday about how Mary and Elizabeth may well have connected deep within their spirits, having so much in common even before seeing each other. Like Okoro, I like to believe that there would have been mutual love, support, friendship and depth. If God has created us to be in community, then (being a God of infinite creativity), there are countless expressions of that community. 

Sadly we have made a hierarchy in community — marriage and the marriage bed. So often in the church we are labeled only as "single" or "married". In many Protestant churches, especially evangelical circles, marriage is venerated as being the preferred state. In many Catholic circles, singleness is elevated in the area of priestly ministry. Neither, I believe, are healthy nor do they include the teeming expressions we could draw upon. 

I don't doubt that many married couples love their spouses as best friends, but such is not always the case nor is it good theology or doctrine. I mean, Scripture was written during a time when women didn't even get to choose their partners. It was all done for them.

Friendship is a holy, depthless well of love, trust, connection and surprise. Could I go this deep with every friend? Nope. Surely not. But friendship is as holy, pure, esteemed, and required as any marital relationship. Just because sex isn't in the picture doesn't make it any less important or valuable. Yet we've done a bang-up job of making it so.

They're just friends.

How I hate that word: just.

"We have allowed our culture's obsession with romance and sex to dictate how we view life-giving relationships. We have dulled friendship's ability to illuminate corners of our lives. We can endure very little without the support of friends. Choosing to open ourselves in friendship abd to expose our vulernabilities relieves the weight of carrying our burdens alone" (Okoro, p.72).

Mary didn't run to her father or soon-to-be husband. In her seclusion, she sought out another woman in seclusion. To the best of our knowledge, Jesus never married and, as Okoro points out, calls his once-disciples friends.


I am tired of churches putting singles into singles' groups. Rarely are these places where single people of whatever stripe can share or make friends. Mostly their true intentions are to be meat markets. It saddens me, too, when married people feel too afraid to even be seen with a person of the opposite sex. You have to lose friends to gain your marriage? What's wrong here? Boundaries might shift and change, I'll agree, but to cut people out or to refuse association seems more than extreme.

And in this dark time of waiting, my hope is that we all find a good friend. There are a lot of lonely people on the margins, placed here because of some antiquated sexual veneration or marriage worship. How much richer would our lives become if we allowed ourselves to reach out to someone might not otherwise relate to, and allow them to reach out to us?

Not "just" friends.


Until tomorrow, Henri,


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