the graces of friendship

We live with a poverty of friendship. We all relate to one another, to ourselves, and to God every day. What does it say that our word for that exchange–relationship–has come to mean primarily the romantic and sexual?

One of the unexpected graces of the monastic life has been the recognition of the tremendous gift of friendship. When I chose celibacy, I was both assenting to some deeper intuition of my identity and actively choosing to live in a way that decentralizes the sexual and romantic quest. That doesn’t mean that the fantasy of married or family life, my body’s longing to be touched, or the deeper and very real calling to partnered life have left me. On the contrary–all three (and more) are clearer when illuminated by the light of celibacy. The value and abundance of friendship in my life has been similarly revealed.

I’m sorry that it took saying no to romantic and sexual relationships to really see my friends for the vessels of grace and love and support that they are. But I’m also glad that, whatever it took, I now value them as I do. My friends are not mere alternatives to romantic partners, some second best prize because I was unlucky in love. They are deep sources of intimacy, knowing, and mutuality. We listen to one another deeply, to the silences as much as to the words. Our hearts keep counsel with one another, whether we’re together or not. I feel their love supporting me during my days, as I hope they do mine. And I have learned and am learning in the love we share with another the depths and abundance of God’s love for me.

The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist has a beautiful chapter on the graces of friendship that reminds us that friendship mirrors the soul’s relationship to Jesus:

For us no honor exists that could be greater than Jesus calling us his friends. The more we enter into the fullness of our friendship with him, the more he will move us to be friends for one another, and to cherish friendship itself as a means of grace. The forging of bonds between us that would make us ready to lay down our lives for one another is a powerful witness to the reality of our risen life in Christ. In an alienating world, where so many are frustrated and wounded in their quest for intimacy, we can bear life-giving testimony to the graces of friendship as men who know by experience its demands, its limitations and its rewards.

During my initial formation, our novice master told us that we would be lucky to have one soul friend in the community in which we live. He was pointing out the rarity of deep and abiding friendship. And while I understand the point he was making, I have found the opposite to be true. As I have deepened in my monastic life and in my love of God, friendship has flourished to overflowing in my life.

It’s true that deep soul friends are rare. And yet, I can count at least seven in my life, several of whom live close enough that I see them all the time. While most friendships may plumb the eternal depths of the soul, many, many more skim its surface and fill the soul with light. I am grateful for both kinds.

In the last seven years I’ve run up against my own reticence to love. I see the ways I’ve thrown up walls and gates and hedges. I’ve often felt I had to protect myself against unwanted intrusions into my inner life. Any monk who welcomes guests knows that sometimes they probe a bit too hard. And yet, God has continued to soften my heart and my walls. God has continued to teach me to love more broadly and more deeply. More often these days I feel a genuine affection for those I live with and for those who come to our Guesthouse.

There are just so many, many people to love in this world. What a gift God has given us in one another. We don’t have to be so alienated or frustrated in our quest for intimacy. Sometimes it’s enough to look at the life we have been given with new eyes, and to count the myriad people God has given us to love. Perhaps even to call friends.

Please know how grateful I am for your thoughtful and kind comments on my posts. I’m sorry that I don’t have time to respond to them all. I do read every one, and I feel deeply the privilege of your sharing your lives with me. May God bless you with abundant life!

9 Replies to “the graces of friendship”

  1. Another gift. Thank you. Aidan. I have shared the ideas of your previous post “on fallowness” with some people in my life, and it has resonated deeply and been helpful to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your emails, they alway resonate with me and make me think deeply. It’s still going to be awhile until we all get vaccinated & can safely visit. But your messages keep the door open – i like to get the pictures too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for such a beautiful discourse on friendship. You’re right, there’s a real dearth of true friendship and we as a society are poorer for it. And bless your novice director for acknowledging friendship. That hasn’t actually been the history in Religious Communities. Such a concept was, in fact, actively discouraged. It was in the Community I was once a part of. Thank you once again for such a moving and clear eyed description of something so valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Many thanks for this, Aidan. As someone who was recently welcomed into a long-standing group of friends, seemingly without any reservations, I have been pondering friendship for the past couple of months. It is incredibly important, even for those of us who are happily partnered with our dearest friend in life, to see the possibilities of friendship of all kinds with other people of all kinds.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, indeed, for this Brother Aidan! I am envious of your ability to see and appreciate and nurture friendships. The “atomization” of our society tends to increase our isolation, now doubly during the pandemic. You inspire me to try to see my casual friends and contacts more deeply. I suspect they and I may, dare I say it, begin to look more like Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Brother Aiden
    I so enjoyed this deeply touching article and the video which brought me back to the wonderful spaces that I so lovingly was a part of on my weekend retreats held at the monastery.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So glad that you are writing again Aidan! Good to remember “There are just so many, many people to love in this world. What a gift God has given us in one another.”
    Grateful for your friendship and love too! Hugs – Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

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