Sacred Relationship — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Sacred Relationship

Friendship and Grace

Sacred Relationship
Monday, April 12, 2021

Depth psychologist and author David Benner has been a great source of wisdom and kindness for me over the years. He highlights how modern forms of friendship rarely become the life-giving relationships that our souls desire:

The ancients viewed friendship as the crown of life, the fulfillment of all that is most distinctively human. Moderns all too often assess its value primarily in terms of its usefulness for achieving material ends (friends as business contacts) or minimizing boredom and loneliness (friends as people to kill time with). . . .

Most people also have colleagues with whom they work or associates with whom they spend regular time.

But this still falls short of the ideals of friendship. The coin of friendship has been continuously devalued by being applied to these lesser forms of relationship. Relationships between acquaintances or associates involve little of the intimacy, trust, commitment and loyalty of real friendships. Friendships may grow out of these more casual relationships but are not the same. Unfortunately, true friendships are also much more rare.

Friendship is one of God’s special gifts to humans. Remarkably, friendship is one of the terms God uses to describe the relationship [God] desires with us. Friendship is therefore no ordinary relationship. [1]

In contrast to the transactional relationships we often settle for today, the twelfth-century Cistercian monk Aelred of Rievaulx  (1110–1167) viewed friendship with other people as a way to deepen our friendship with God in Christ. In his classic work Spiritual Friendship, he writes:

How happy, how carefree, how joyful you are if you have a friend with whom you may talk as freely as with yourself, to whom you neither fear to confess any fault nor blush at revealing any spiritual progress, to whom you may entrust all the secrets of your heart and confide all your plans. And what is more delightful than so to unite spirit to spirit and so to make one out of two that there is neither fear of boasting nor dread of suspicion? A friend’s correction does not cause pain, and a friend’s praise is not considered flattery.

The wise man says, “a friend is medicine for life.” What a striking metaphor! No remedy is more powerful, effective, and distinctive in everything that fills this life than to have someone to share your every loss with compassion and your every gain with congratulation. Hence shoulder to shoulder, according to Paul, friends carry each other’s burdens [Galatians 6:2]. . . .

Indeed such great honor, remembrance, praise, and wishes are attached to friends that their lives are considered worthy of praise and their deaths precious. One truth surpasses all these: close to perfection is that level of friendship that consists in the love and knowledge of God, when one who is the friend of another becomes the friend of God, according to the verse of our Savior in the Gospel: “I shall no longer call you servants but friends” [John 15:15]. [2]

[1] David G. Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction (IVP Books: 2002), 61–62.

[2] Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Lawrence C. Braceland, ed. Marsha L. Dutton (Liturgical Press: 2010), 72–73, 73–74. Italics in original.

Story from Our Community:
I learned from Richard Rohr, and mystics like John of the Cross, that growing in humanity is a choice to grow in that great energy of love we call by many names, including God. I can learn something all the way to my last breath—even if it is learning to take the last breath. Life is awesome and deeply challenging when we fall into love’s connectedness. —Sarah L.

Image credit: Suzanne Szasz, Taking a Close Look at Nature at High Rock Park in Staten Island (detail), 1973, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Friends of all kinds surround and hold us.
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