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Friendship and Grace

Friendship and Grace

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Week Fifteen Summary and Practice

Sunday, April 11—Friday, April 16, 2021

Sunday
What I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can then see and accept in myself, in my friends, and in everything else! This is “radical grace.”

Monday
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. —Aelred of Rievaulx

Tuesday
When Francis felt most alone in the world, most persecuted and misunderstood, it was Clare he would turn to for clarity, wisdom, and a love stripped of sentimentality.
—Mirabai Starr

Wednesday
When followers of Jesus walk beside him, he leads them in directions they would rather not go, into neighborhoods they would rather avoid, and to meet other friends of his they might not normally know. —Dana L. Robert

Thursday
Christian mission begins with friendship—not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing—but genuine friendship, friendship that translates love for neighbors in general into knowing, appreciating, liking, and enjoying this or that neighbor in particular. —Brian McLaren

Friday
I realized that the people I really loved with great abandon and freedom were not just people who loved me, but people who also loved what I loved.

 

Friendship as Blessing

At its best, human love and friendship are an extension of the divine love and friendship that exist at the heart of the Trinity. It is an overflowing fullness of love and blessing. Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue (1956–2008) is a modern teacher on the sacred nature of friendship who explains how this blessing can be shared.

A person should always offer a prayer of graciousness for the love that has awakened in them. When you feel love for your beloved and the beloved’s love for you, now and again you should offer the warmth of your love as a blessing for those who are damaged and unloved. Send that love out into the world to people who are desperate, to those who are starving, to those who are trapped in prison, in hospitals, and into all the brutal terrains of bleak and tormented lives. When you send that love out from the bountifulness of your own love, it reaches other people. This love is the deepest power of prayer.

Prayer is the act and presence of sending this light from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free, and bless them. When there is love in your life, you should share it spiritually with those who are pushed to the very edge of life. . . . In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have. . . . Love is the source, center, and destiny of experience.

A Friendship Blessing

May you be blessed with good friends.

May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.

May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where

there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.

May this change you.

May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold

in you.

May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and

affinity of belonging.

May you treasure your friends.

May you be good to them and may you be there for them;

may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,

and light that you need for your journey.

May you never be isolated.

May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your

anam ċara.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
John O’Donohue, Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (Cliff Street Books: 1997),
35–36. 

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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Friendship and Grace

God as Friendship
Friday, April 16, 2021

As I was preparing for The Shape of God conference on the Trinity in 2004, I discovered the teachings of Richard of St. Victor (1110–1173), a medieval philosopher and theologian. For years, people had been telling me, “Richard, read Richard!” So I finally did, and he gave me the powerful insight that the Trinity can be summed up as mutual friendship between three. Absolute Friendship! I really believe this is something we might be able to hold on to in our spiritual lives.

In essence, he said, for God to be good, God can be one (but we always have doubts about a lone monarch). For God to be loving, God has to be two, because love is always a relationship of giving and receiving. The real breakthrough comes when Richard of St. Victor says that for God to be joy-filled and happy, God has to be three. [1] Delight comes, he says, from two together enjoying and rejoicing in the same thing at the same time. It is like new parents loving their new child that they cannot stop admiring. The love then flows in an eternal circle instead of back and forth between two. Each of the three takes their part in revving the engine of desire and delight.

His theology places friendship right at the heart of God! Denis Edwards, another theologian I appreciate, describes the theology of Richard of St. Victor in this way:

Richard [of St. Victor] sees the self-transcending love of friendship as the high point of human life and argues that such friendship must be found in God. . . . Real friendship is love which goes from the self to the other. . . . Richard’s insight into friendship leads him to suggest that real love does not remain with the two but wants to share love with another. For full love we look for one who can share our love for the beloved. Richard sees the friendship in the Trinity as ecstatically breaking out beyond the two to include a third. . . . There is no sense in which this common [third] friend is loved any less than the other two. In the love of the divine Persons, Richard sees supreme love flowing equally in all directions. [2]

When I read Richard of St. Victor, it reminded me of a dilemma I faced when I first started becoming rather well-known. (Forgive me if that sounds arrogant!) There were a lot of people who wanted to get close to me and be my friend. I asked myself, how do I allow all these would-be friends? I realized that the people I really loved with great abandon and freedom were not just people who loved me, but people who also loved what I loved.

Optimally, both parents fall in love with the challenge and joy that is their baby. The child that they’re in love with holds the couple together in a kind of ecstatic and willing-to-serve excitement. Love is no effort then; it flows in each new moment between the One who agrees to start the Flow, the Second who receives and reciprocates the Flow, and the Third who becomes the beneficiary and the Flow Itself. And they are constantly changing places! Think about that for a few hours. You will not want to live anywhere else.

References:
[1] Richard of St. Victor, The Trinity, book 3, chapters 14–15. See Richard of St. Victor, trans. Grover A. Zinn (Paulist Press: 1979), 387–389.

[2] Denis Edwards, The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology (Paulist Press: 1999), 21, 23.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), DVD, CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
These meditations enrich our lives with different ways of seeing, so important in the narrow tradition I grew up in. I found the gift of Jesus at twelve, but he was wrapped in the culture of the missionary church. We have spent years letting go of the wrapping and keeping the gift. God has used Fr. Richard and Brian McLaren to teach us the depths of meditation, giving us a new awareness of our place in the universe and how connected to everything we are. —Nel S.

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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Friendship and Grace

Making New Friends
Thursday, April 15, 2021

I’ve known CAC faculty member Brian McLaren for many years; and I deeply admire his gift for making friends through his genuine curiosity, compassion, and unconditional presence to others. In this passage, he encourages us to build relationships outside our comfortable social and religious groups.

Christian mission begins with friendship—not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing—but genuine friendship, friendship that translates love for neighbors in general into knowing, appreciating, liking, and enjoying this or that neighbor in particular. . . .

Many new friends have come into my life . . . Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, and others—including lots of atheists and agnostics, too. One of the most dramatic of those friendships began in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. Like a lot of churches, our little congregation held a prayer service. While praying, I felt a voice speaking, as it were, in my chest: Your Muslim neighbors are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them. The next morning, I wrote and made copies of a letter extending, belatedly, friendship toward Muslim communities in my area, and offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action. I drove to the three mosques nearby—I had never visited them before—and tried to deliver my letter in person. . . .

[At the third mosque,] I clumsily introduced myself [to the imam] as the pastor from down the street . . . I then handed him my letter, which he opened and read as I stood there awkwardly. I remember the imam, a man short in stature, slowly looking down at the letter in the bright September sun, then up into my face, then down, then up, and each time he looked up, his eyes were more moist. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me—a perfect stranger. . . . I still remember the feeling of his head pressed against my chest, squeezing me as if I were his long-lost brother. . . .

My host welcomed me not with hostility or even suspicion, but with the open heart of a friend. And so that day a friendship began between an Evangelical pastor named Brian and a Muslim imam we’ll call Ahmad. . . .

It’s one thing to say you love humanity in general, whatever their religion; it’s quite another to learn to love this or that specific neighbor with his or her specific religion. So, do you have a Sikh neighbor, a Hindu coworker, a Muslim business associate, a Buddhist member of your PTA, a New Age second cousin? Invite them into companionship over a cup of tea or coffee. Ask them questions. Display unexpected interest in them, their traditions, their beliefs, and their stories. Learn why they left what they left, why they stay where they stay, why they love what they love. Enter their world, and welcome them into your world, without judgment. If they reciprocate, welcome their reciprocation; if not, welcome their nonreciprocation. Experience conviviality. Join the conspiracy of plotting for the common good together.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (Jericho Books: 2012), 223, 225, 226, 231.

Story from Our Community:
These meditations enrich our lives with different ways of seeing, so important in the narrow tradition I grew up in. I found the gift of Jesus at twelve, but he was wrapped in the culture of the missionary church. We have spent years letting go of the wrapping and keeping the gift. God has used Fr. Richard and Brian McLaren to teach us the depths of meditation, giving us a new awareness of our place in the universe and how connected to everything we are. —Nel S.

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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Friendship and Grace

A Friendship with Jesus
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:13–14)

When we treat Jesus as a friend, it’s easy to focus on how the relationship benefits us and relieves our burdens, but Professor Dana L. Robert reminds us that there is more to friendship with Jesus than the blessings we receive. Knowing Jesus as a friend is a source of strength that impacts all our relationships in community and society. She writes:

Knowing Jesus is a relationship so intimate that he carries his followers’ burdens. He brings them joy. He walks beside them. In short, Jesus befriends those who follow him. And friendship with Jesus builds Christian community across cultural, social, and ethnic divisions. . . .

In 1993, the Reverend Dr. Margaret Moshoeshoe Montjane was an Anglican chaplain at the huge Baragwanath Hospital in the South African township of Soweto. She was a former student of mine, and I was scheduled to go visit her. Then on April 10, a right-wing nationalist murdered the head of the South African Communist Party, Chris Hani, in his driveway. Immediately riots broke out throughout the country, especially in Soweto. South Africa was a powder keg, and Nelson Mandela could barely keep the lid on. Angry young men surged into Baragwanath Hospital with their injured comrades. Margaret used all her authority to avert rioting in the hospital, ordering the rioters to sit down and treat the hospital with respect. When we spoke on the phone before my scheduled visit, I asked her how she was managing. She answered, “Without Jesus, I couldn’t get through the day.”. . . [Her friendship with Jesus helped her support the community through crisis.]

In most cultures, the idea of friendship is a powerful statement of relational identity. In Batak culture in Indonesia, for example, it is said that the loss of a friend is worse than the loss of one’s mother. Traditional Russian culture assumes it is better to have many friends than much money. In Confucian tradition, friendship is one of the basic relationships that undergirds society. For American Christians, being friends with Jesus tends to be personal. . . . Jesus is my friend. He carries my burdens.

But a cross-cultural perspective on Jesus as friend says a lot about the meaning of community. For friendship always goes both ways. It requires mutuality. It involves give and take. . . . Since Jesus is holding hands with the world, so to speak, then intimacy with Jesus extends far beyond personal needs. To befriend Jesus means carrying in fellowship the responsibilities of friendship that he carried. . . .

In the context of worldwide community, being friends with Jesus is hard work. For when followers of Jesus walk beside him, he leads them in directions they would rather not go, into neighborhoods they would rather avoid, and to meet other friends of his they might not normally know. As the Scriptures and history show, to be a friend of Jesus means loving others just as he does.

Reference:
Dana L. Robert, Faithful Friendships: Embracing Diversity in Christian Community (Eerdmans: 2019), 9, 10–11, 12.

Story from Our Community:
Fr. Richard’s meditations living ‘on the edge of the inside’ mention people who don’t watch TV, have a daily prayer life, who put themselves in risky situations—he is describing me! I love St. Francis and St. Clare but have never considered how my choices are, in a small way, similar to theirs. Thank you, Richard, for affirmation of my life choices. —Diane P.

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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Friendship and Grace

The Gift of Wise Friends
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

As a Franciscan, I have always been curious about the fruitful friendship between Francis of Assisi and his female companion Clare. They were not lovers, yet they were deeply devoted to one another, built their orders together, and turned to one another for support and wisdom. My friend Mirabai Starr offers a vignette based on tales about Francis and Clare, and shows a mutual friendship built on their shared dedication to Christ:

Clare gave up everything to be with Francis, to live as he lived, to see the face of the Divine in the faces of the poor and the oppressed and to love them as he loved them. “Her goal in life,” says Robert Ellsberg about Saint Clare, “was not to be a reflection of Francis but to be, like him, a reflection of Christ.” [1]

While Francis guided his growing order of Little Brothers, he assigned Clare as the leader of the Poor Ladies.

When Francis felt most alone in the world, most persecuted and misunderstood, it was Clare he would turn to for clarity, wisdom, and a love stripped of sentimentality. “All I want is to live as a hermit and love my Lord in secret,” he confessed to her. “And yet I am moved to preach the gospel of holy poverty in the world. What should I do?”

Clare did not equivocate: “God did not call you for yourself alone, but also for the salvation of others.” [2]

Toward the end of his life, when the brotherhood had burgeoned so quickly that it threatened to implode, Francis’s physical health mirrored the disease spreading through his community. Wracked by unrelenting pain in his joints and flesh, and nearly blind, the forty-four-year-old ascetic took refuge in a hermitage adjoining the convent of the Poor Clares at San Damiano [where Clare lived and died].

There, near to the woman who knew his soul and loved him with a perfect love, and enfolded in the sacred sounds and smells of the creation, Francis composed his ecstatic hymn, “The Canticle of The Sun.”

When Francis could no longer hide the gravity of his condition, the brothers took him home to die. Clare immediately became seriously ill, sharing the suffering of her beloved in her own body. When Francis heard that Clare was sick with grief, he sent her a message.

“I promise,” he wrote, “you will see me again before you die.” [He accepted and enjoyed how much she loved him! —Richard Rohr]

A few days later, the brothers carried Francis’s lifeless body to the cloistered convent of San Damiano and stopped beneath Clare’s window. They lifted him high so that Clare could almost reach out and touch his hair. The friars stood there for as long as Clare wished, while she filled her eyes with him and wailed.

Clare lived for another twenty-seven years without her “pillar of strength and consolation,” yet content in the arms of their common mother, “Our Lady, Most Holy Poverty.” She became a great and beloved spiritual leader, whose primary teaching was her life of radical simplicity and quiet joy.

References:
[1] Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (Crossroad: 2002, 1997), 345.

[2] The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions, chapter 16. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3: The Prophet (New City Press: 2001), 468–469.

Mirabai Starr, Saint Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation (Sounds True: 2013), 74­­–76.

Story from Our Community:
Fr. Richard’s meditations living ‘on the edge of the inside’ mention people who don’t watch TV, have a daily prayer life, who put themselves in risky situations—he is describing me! I love St. Francis and St. Clare but have never considered how my choices are, in a small way, similar to theirs. Thank you, Richard, for affirmation of my life choices. —Diane P.

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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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]

References:
[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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Friendship and Grace

Love and Friendship
Sunday, April 11, 2021

When you looked at me

your eyes imprinted your grace in me;

for this you loved me ardently;

and thus my eyes deserved

to adore what they beheld in you. . . .

Let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty.

—John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanzas 32, 36

When we read poetry as beautiful and profound as this verse, we can see why John of the Cross (1542–1591) was far ahead of his time in the spiritual and psychological understanding of how love works and how true love changes us at a deep level. He consistently speaks of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter. Authentic friendship with another person is one way to experience this type of love and will be the focus of this week’s meditations. If you have never experienced such human love or friendship, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way. Of course, grace can overcome both of these limitations.

Here is my paraphrase of this beautiful passage from John of the Cross:

You give a piece of yourself to the other.

You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).

This allows the other to do the same in return.

You do not need or demand anything back from them,

Because you know that you are both participating

In a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving—

One that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.

(Simply to love is its own reward.)

You accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever!

This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others,

and toward God.

So much so that we call it “salvation”!

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can then see and accept in myself, in my friends, and in everything else. This is “radical grace.” This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other trusted person to see us in our imperfection and even our nakedness, as we are—rather than as we would ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and transformative mystery of grace.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once we allow it for ourselves, we will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others. In fact, nothing else will attract us anymore or even make much sense.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad: 2009), 140–141.

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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