Last weekend, I met up with some friends at an art exhibition near Oxford.
It was an interesting gathering. Though we were all connected by friendship, for some it was a meeting after a number of years of absence (in one case it was a physical meeting after almost 30 years). Three were meeting for the first time but they had become connected by the friendship each had with others in the group.
It was a joyous occasion as each met around the common factor of amazing art.
On the way home I thought how lovely it had all been and how real relationships both withstand absences and are also quickly renewed.
It is through relationships that we grow in love, understanding, a feeling of our worth, and joy.
Friendship is one of the most important relationships which we share with so many but the deep friendships are often with only a few.
What might the qualities of such friendships be.
I love what Kahil Gibran, in his book of meditations, The Prophet, says of this.
And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
And he answered, saying:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery us not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain
(for ‘he’ substitute ‘she’ as appropriate. He wrote this is a different age!)
There are different kinds of friendship. One I have really valued is known as Soul Friendship and it is about talking to another about God and about our personal relationship with God.
Soul-friends share a deep intimacy and love for each other’s wisdom and, of course, their relationship is totally God-centred.
Whilst using a soul-friend is a way of helping a person to find peace within themselves, peace and harmony with others and with creation, this is not its main aim – essentially it was about seeking a deeper relationship with God. As St Teresa of Avila once said: Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.
A Soul Friend is therefore one who can walk with us as we seek to grow that prayerful friendship.
Jesus called us his friends and he, through the Holy Spirit is our true and closest Soul Friend. (see John 15: 12-17)
Our friendship with God defines all our other friendships and one who understood this more than most is St Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote about Spiritual Friendship. Drawing on the work of Cicero and shot through with his faith and friendship with God, we can learn much about what it means when Jesus calls us His friends.
who endowed Aelred the abbot
with the gift of Christian friendship
and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness:
grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection,
so that, in loving one another,
we may know the love of Christ
and rejoice in the eternal possession
of your supreme goodness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.