What are friends for?
We began our Lenten spiritual journey last Wednesday at church with a beginning conversation about "The Spiritual Journey and Friendship". I invited people around tables to share an early experience with friendship in life. Here was mine.
When I was a 12 year old boy, I learned a key biblical insight into friendship.
It was a Wednesday night fellowship gathering at church, and I was playing with a large group of boys outside, when Graham Creech, an older boy and notorius bully took a dislike to me and said: "I'm going to beat the snot out of you!"
Tommy Bunnell, another boy a year older than me who had been a friend since I was in first grade and he was in second, quickly stepped between us and said to Graham Creech: "You'll have to go through me first."
"There are friends who pretend to be friends, and there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother," says one of the Proverbs. That was my biblical insight.
Friends protect each other.
Of coure that early experience also confirmed my belief in miracles. God saved me from a sure and certain Death in the presence of Tommy Bunnell.
That night around our tables at the beginning of our Lenten journey, several people contributed insights about friendship. One young girl and her invited friend shared this: "Friends don't gossip about each other. They keep your secrets". What an insight from a couple of young girls all of about ten years of age. Friends are people we can confide in, and share both the best and worst about ourselves- and still be loved.
John O'Donohue writing in his book "Anam Cara" (a Celtic view of spiritual friendship) feels "there's a huge crisis of belonging in postmodern culture."
I think he's right for a number of reasons. After childhood, I think lots of adults shut down their friend-making capacity. It's not easy to make friends in a business/consumer culture where lots of people look like competitors, and sharing secrets in the workplace is definitely a career killer. Then there's the anonymity of much of suburban culture, or the fear-factor in more urban settings.
Here's where we have to acknowledge our need to develop or recapture some friend-making capacities. Alered of Rievaulx was a monk of the 12 century in Britain who was drawn to the experience of "Spiritual Friendship" and wrote about the way of friendship. Now, there's a spiritual practice worth acquiring, the ability to develop friendship. I think it's a calling that we in the church need to respond to in our postmodern period of disposable relationships.
Where have you learned about the qualities of authentic friendships? Who has been your most unlikely friend? What disappointments have you experienced within a friendship- how it felt, and what you did, and what your friend did?
One older woman at our Lenten gathering shared this: "True friends are those who really know you, but love you anyway."