Friday, May 22, 2015

Spiritual friendship

One of the joys of prayer is that our spiritual friends among the communion of saints are always there praying with us, ready to share their gifts with us to aid us on our earthly journey. One of those who came to me this week is Aelred, the 12th century abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Rieveaulx in Yorkshire. I visited this monastery in 2001 while I was studying in England (this is a pic I took during my visit). It was a holy experience being there, walking the grounds, imagining what it was like in its hey-day.

Aelred, a contemplative, wrote two important books on spirituality, but it was his writings on spiritual friendship that came to my thoughts as I prayed this week. This was the gift Aelred brought to me/us.

Inspired by the gospel of John and the friendship Jesus had with the beloved disciple, Aelred taught that spiritual friendship is a particular kind of love, a discipline with responsibilities. He said that spiritual friendship is a journey of grace that leads us both to God and to the fullness of our humanity: “he that abides in friendship, abides in God, and God in him.” (Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 69-70)

In their book, “Christian Spirituality,” Cunningham and Egan expand on Aelred’s teaching saying, “Friendship requires vulnerability, a willingness to risk love… Friendships require mutuality, leisure for each other, attention to the needs of the other, loyalty, and most of all, a love that is other-centered.” Friendship, they say, “is a movement toward community” and “does not grow without pain or disappointment.”

The love we see being reborn in us at Redeemer is exactly this kind of love: spiritual friendship. We have known the pain and disappointment that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation – which is, of course, a journey into God - and we are practicing once again the mutuality, loyalty, and other-centered love that is required to build the community of love that honors and serves Jesus Christ, our Savior. This Sunday we also have the gift of leisure with one another at our Pentecost picnic. I hope everyone will come and spend time relaxing, eating, playing, and just being with friends.

“Friendship will be full of riches for those who cherish it when it is completely centered upon God; for those whom friendship joins together, it immerses in the contemplation of God” (Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 54).

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