Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Week #18: Spend time in Spiritual Friendship

We sometimes mistakenly assume that the discipline of simplicity is an entirely solitary discipline.  We see it as something pertaining only to our selves, relating to how we inwardly focus our lives on an ever deepening emersion in the Kingdom of God.  There is truth to this.  Simplicity is about living amidst the Kingdom of God.  We focus on the presence of Christ and we strive to live our lives in step with His Spirit.  Yet it is also true that our lives are lived in the midst of a myriad of relationships.

Simplicity does not call us to isolated caves.  It does not require us to cut ourselves off from those with whom we have established relationships.  Cultivating a single hearted focus upon God involves seeing the friendships that we have in light of God's presence and the call of the Kingdom

This should not be surprising if we consider that our Lord relational in nature.  The incarnation of God was an incarnation into social relationships.  Jesus never stood aloof or removed, but entered into the deepest elements of humanity.  Jesus himself expressed his mission was one of friendship.  "No greater love has anyone than this, that they lay down their life for his friends."  He further describes those who focus on his presence and will in their lives as his friends. (John 15:13-15) More profoundly still, even in the shadow of the cross, at the very moment of betrayal, Jesus still referred to the one who rejected him as 'friend.' (Matthew 26:50)

Because friendship is central to life with God our friendships therefore become central to our life in God. Aelred of Rievaulx, a twelfth-century abbot, wrote a book called 'Spiritual Friendship', in which he observed that 'I am convinced that true friendship cannot exist among those who live without Christ.'  This is because, as James Houston puts it in his book The Transforming Friendship' that the Gospel calls us to 'show self-giving love to everyone' (pg.205).  True, authentic, self-giving love, indispensable to friendship can only be rightly understood in light of Christ's sacrifice for us.

Is it possible to see friendship as its own spiritual discipline? Instead of observing our spiritual disciplines by ourselves, alone in our inner chambers, what if we involved our friends?  Of course, a little introspection is in order.  Who would consider your deepest and closest friends?  Is there a spiritual component in your friendship?  Do you ever share your faith or your spiritual experiences with your friends - or is your spiritual life completely and utterly privatized?

Houston remarks that friendship has been undervalued in contemporary religiosity (219).  We simply do not see our friendships and constituting the tapestry in which we live out the Kingdom of God.  Because of this, the decision to involve our friends into our life of faith can seem daunting and scary.  We are afraid that we will come across as spiritual zealots or that our faith will become a wedge between the previously held relationship.  Yet true friendship must embrace the deepest things of the soul, unreservedly.  It is both in the risk of full self-disclosure and the grace found in acceptance where the Kingdom of God is lived out in our friendships.

This week is filled with plenty of time to touch base with your friends.  Find a time to connect.  Go for coffee.  Go for a beer, or glass of wine.  Go golfing, or bowling, or simply sit and watch tv together. What matters more than what you 'do' is the spirit in which you engage with your friends.  Move deeper in your relationship by sharing the deep things of your spirit.  Share your faith, your prayers, and your spiritual experiences. Offer to pray for your friend; ask them to pray for you.

There is a big difference between social companions, casual acquaintances, and rich and satisfying spiritual friendship that is rooted in the presence of God.   It is this friendship that Jesus himself modelled, and that we are called into.

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