The Spirituality of Friendship
Updated: Sep 30, 2021
By The Reverend Ms. Denise D. Tracy
Presented by Omni-U Virtual University
"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." Aristotle
When I moved to Greater Lansing, Michigan to begin my first parish ministry, in 1976, I was given an office from which to conduct my ministry. It was the first office I'd ever had. I thought carefully about what I wanted this office to communicate. There was a desk and chair and two chairs with a table for a conversation area. The question was what to place on the wall between the chairs, to allow people to feel comfortable. I selected a plaque I found with these words by George Eliot:
"Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person;
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but to pour them all out, just as they are,
chaff and grain together,
knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping, and then,
with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away."
A few weeks later, when a reporter came to interview me, my photo was taken next to that plaque for the paper. The plaque continues to express a sentiment that I still love.
This year has been a year of strangeness. Captive in our homes- afraid to breathe or to touch or to hug-we have stepped away from the interpersonal intimacy that we once participated in so casually. I hugged a friend last week. We were both vaccinated so we decided it was safe. We took a deep breath, held it, turned our faces away, opened our arms, and stepped toward each other! When we separated, we both had tears in our eyes. I know that eventually we will stop extending elbows or doing a fist bump when greeting one another and that we will once again hold hands at the end of worship, hug, walk arm in arm and shake hands when meeting people. However, right now we are in a time of extreme weirdness. The question is to hug or not to hug, to extend a hand or to bump fists or elbows?
There is one thing that I have discovered during this pandemic that has been and is a priceless gift---one for which I will always be thankful. It is quite simply this: that while trapped in my home, I began calling people that were dear to me. When I began calling, the conversations were short check-ins. But, as the months continued, the conversations got longer and deeper. The phone would ring, or I would dial and my husband would ask, “Who?” I would say, Gloria, Kathy, Ann, or Barbara. He would get up to go do something, mouthing, “See you in an hour”.
I also began inviting these friends to join worship, virtually wherever I was preaching. It has been interesting and fun. Two years ago, I had about 20 people I would have said were once close friends. Because of the pandemic, I would say that they have become closer to me than ever before. I have done much thinking about how my friendship "life" has improved - not only during the pandemic- but, also because of it.
Now, I have had time to take calls and make calls, to create opportunities for zoom or FaceTime. I have had time to really listen in these conversations, to hear and to understand. I think I have become the kind of friend I have always wanted to be and, perhaps, had not been doing as good a job as I thought I was. I have sometimes been guilty of thinking, while talking to friends, of places I need to be or things I need to be doing. Since I had no place to go and nothing to do, I learned that my friends needed my complete and undivided attention and I needed theirs as well. I suppose the gift of time has allowed me to focus on the Importance of relationships.
There has also been a new kind of chatting -telling stories. What new things have happened to you? How are you coping with this latest part of COVID? What surprises have you experienced? Are you exchanging information about who is ill and even who has died?
In her book, "Gift From the Sea", Anne Morrow Lindbergh uses these words:
"A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the heavy hand: only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back---it does not matter which. Because they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together and being invisibly nourished by it. The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation or the joy of participation, but it is also the joy of living in the moment, lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined."
I have always wanted this type of friendship and my task-oriented and detailed focus on my
"to-do" lists have kept me from being the kind of joyful friend I have always wanted to be. In these last months, I have been like a giggly girl in high school—the phone rings and I stop whatever I am doing and I listen and laugh!!! The house I grew up in was a 3 bedroom,1bath ranch. Our one phone was on the wall by the back door. It was a dial phone with a very long cord. I would take the phone and step outside in all seasons. In winter, I kept my coat by the backdoor so that I could talk privately to my friends outside in the cold. When I visited my sister recently, she gave me a photo album with the graduation pictures of all of my high school friends. I remember talking on the phone with these folks, sometimes saying at the end of the conversation, "You hang up first. No, you hang up first, and on and on. I remember my Dad getting exasperated and saying, “Let me save you a lot of trouble, I will hang up for you both.” Click.
Webster’s Dictionary defines spirituality as the quality of being concerned with the soul. Cambridge Dictionary says spirituality involves deep feelings or beliefs. The more "New Age" looseleaf notebook sources say that spirituality is the process of awakening, expanding, and helping the mind be free of fears and worries and, in doing this, allows us to experience the inner peace and beauty of everyday life. Simply put, spirituality restores our faith and connection with both self, others, and the world.
How are our friendships spiritual?
First- When we know we are loved and when that love is reciprocal, our faith in life is uplifted and renewed.
Secondly- When we are truly loved we also are able to look at ourselves honestly and be stronger and better able to live our purpose more fully.
Thirdly,-When we can rest in the care of a friend and speak our minds, we can reconsider our actions. A good friendship also has both velvet and sandpaper. The best of our friends say, “You did what? Tell me what you were thinking.” And, we are sill loved for the mistakes we have made. when we do.
Not everyone is meant to be our friend. When someone is abusive or hurtful, we must set limits and move on. There are lots of beautiful people in our world and we want the best ones in our lives!
Over the course of the last several months, I renewed relationships that became as important to me as my friendships were when I stood outside in the cold to chat! I have had time to listen, to share, to rejoice, and to confess: the gift of the Pandemic is learning how to do this again.
John O’Donohue, the Irish poet, says this of friendship, “A friend awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you.”
Over the past few months, I was re-diagnosed with cancer. My friends listened to me, cared for me and then kept me in line: One said, “You have been here before. You got this.” Or “ Yes, it is tough and you are tougher!” They did not allow me to sink into despair. What I have discovered is that friendship gives us both roots and wings. The best of friendships give us the grounding of roots and as the poet O’Donohue says, friendships also give us wild possibilities which are our wings.
I remember that, at different times when they were growing up, each of my children complained about not having friends. I would tell them. “The best way to get a friend is to be a friend.” They would roll their eyes at me, Mom!!! But, the reality is that friendships are grand experiments in spirituality.
There are schools with benches in the lunchroom or on the playground and anyone who is feeling disconnected or lonely is to sit there, it is the sign to everyone that here is someone who needs a friend. I hope we can find a "lonely bench" for each of us to sit on -or to go to a person who is sitting on that bench -and practice our spirituality by being a friend.
May this be true for each of us. May we be surrounded with love that affirms, awakens, and releases our wildest possibilities…Amen, Shalom, and Blessed Be.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the Recommended Readings are suggested by Omni Virtual University and are offered by afriwarebooks.com.
"The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present in the Life You Have" by Mark Nepo
"Spirituality Before Religions: Spirituality is Unseen Science...Science is Unseen Religion" by Professor Kaba Hiawatha Kamene
"Advice from a Spiritual Friend" by Geshe Gabte
"Spiritual Friendship" by Marsha Dalton
"Soul Friends: The Transforming Power of Deep Human Connection" by Steve Cope
"The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friendship" by Eugene H. Peterson. Narrated by Maurice England
"Faith in the Valley: Lessons for Women on the Journey to Peace" by Iyanla Vanzant
"Dear Friend: Letters for Your Spiritual Journey" by Sandy Beach