In Memory of David Strieff

A friend who came into my life through the Transforming Center passed away this week, and as I've been reflecting on my relationship with him, I wanted to write here to try to express something of why his friendship was a gift to me.

As part of the Transforming Community experience (which I describe as having saved my life), I wrote quarterly reflection papers. These weren't academic papers, and they weren't for grades. Rather, they were a space in which I could reflect on teachings and readings from the quarter and how they intersected (or sometimes, crashed into) with my life as I was experiencing it.

My two years in my initial Transforming Community experience were difficult ones, as within those two years and the months following I made drastic (and drastically needed) changes in my lifestyle and my approach to ministry, and I lost my dad to cancer.

In the context of those difficult years, I needed the space provided by those reflection papers to wrestle with things. I needed to reflect honestly on my life as I had been living it, why I was not on the road to becoming the kind of person I wanted to be, and how I might be able to reorient my lifestyle around my desire to live a more genuine life with God.

Each person in a Transforming Community who writes those reflection papers is matched with a reader who shares their journey through the two years, asks a few questions to deepen the reflection, and offers encouragement along the way. My reader was David Strieff.

David was reading my reflections before I began to discover spiritual direction, and he accompanied me well. As I wrestled, he was there alongside me. He was encouraging to me in those years, and in the years afterward whenever we would see one another or exchange emails.

Because he accompanied me well, I felt it to be such an honor when I later had the opportunity to be a reader for others going through their Transforming Community experiences. Accompanying others through those reflection papers was a major factor that led me to want to pursue spiritual direction training. And now, as a spiritual director, I'm constantly trying to be attentive to ways that incorporating some written reflection into spiritual direction can help to deepen our attentiveness to God.

And with David's death this week, I've realized how much of the richness of my journey during the past eight years can be traced back to those papers. I am glad that I still have my copies of them with David's handwritten responses. I am glad to have memories of his deep voice, warm smile, and strong hugs. And I am glad that Transforming Community gave us the space to share our journeys and become friends.

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother David. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.
— The Book of Common Prayer

A Few Additions to the Best Books for Our Mission

Letting this list get too long would make it less helpful, so I won't make these kinds of additions often. But after publishing my list of the best Christian books for spiritual formation a few days ago, I wanted to add a few more, and they all happen to be in the "Giving Grace" category, focusing on our relationships/our mission.

They are: 

  • Henri Nouwen and Soul Care: A Ministry of Integration, Wil Hernandez
  • Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Direction, Gordon T. Smith
  • Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman
  • The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
  • How God is in Business, Dallas Willard

Click here to see the full list.

The Best Christian Books for Spiritual Formation

For people wired like me, there is possibly nothing more flattering than when another person asks for a suggestion on what to read. In the past decade, this has happened to me at least three times, which therefore calls for me to write up such a list and publish it to so that it's available to those three individuals plus all of the others in the English-speaking parts of the universe.

Click here to check out the list.

A Prayer for Hospitality

This is one of the prayers I had the privilege of contributing to a great book by one of my teachers and friends: Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, by Wil Hernandez.

FROM CHAPTER NINE: HOSPITALITY

God who welcomes me,

Show me today when I am open to You and to those around me, as well as when I am closed to You and those You have put into my life. I want deeply to have more open space for You in my life, and that it may be a space that offers peace to others. Yet so many things in my life fill up the space and prevent me from being with You and from genuinely being with others. Most of them are good things, yet still they create clutter in who I am. I need Your wisdom today, Lord, to know which things to clear out and which things are genuinely mine to be used for Your glory. If something needs to go so that I can have more open space to offer, help me to loosen my grip on it, and if something should stay, may it be used freely as Your gift for the sake of others.

In the name of the One who is preparing a place for me. Amen.

A Prayer for Compassion

This is one of the prayers I had the privilege of contributing to a great book by one of my teachers and friends: Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, by Wil Hernandez.

From Chapter Eight: Compassion

God who cares,

You have created, redeemed, and sustained us–not only because you love each of us, but because you genuinely, passionately care about every one of your children. You have seen and heard me, you have emptied yourself on my behalf and suffered with and for me, offering me the rest and hope that I have needed so desperately, making me dissatisfied with anything but your love.

And now that I find myself in you, I find that same love increasing within me. Walk gently with me into my own suffering, and then help me to be less fearful of the suffering of those around me, so that my wounds in yours can bring your caring touch to this world.

Amen.

A Prayer to Live No Longer for Myself

This is one of the prayers I had the privilege of contributing to a great book by one of my teachers and friends: Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, by Wil Hernandez.

Crucified and Risen Lord,

You set us an example, teaching us to do as you did: seeking not to be served but to serve, and to live no longer for ourselves but for love of you and those around us. Teach me to live fully in you so that I can have real life to give generously to others. Help me to lay down my illusions of protecting myself as I learn to walk in the way of your cross and find that your life grows in me as I seek your death and resurrection rather than my own preservation. Give me, today, someone to serve in this love that you have poured into my heart.

Amen.

A Prayer for Solidarity

This is one of the prayers I had the privilege of contributing to a great book by one of my teachers and friends: Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, by Wil Hernandez.

From Chapter Six: Solidarity

O God, our life,

You made us in Your own image and yet somehow also took on our own flesh. At our creation, You breathed Your life into us as pure gift, and every person we have ever encountered has that touch that could only come from Your hand. As I unpack my own life hidden in Christ and find You indwelling me–where the life that You live and the life You have given me are ever more the same, help me to see You indwelling the people I will pass today–whether strangers on the street or my closest loved ones in my own home. As grateful as I am that You are here with me, I am even more awestruck that You are here with us. Because of that, may I never again see another person as a stranger, but may I behold You, who indwell me, in them. Amen.