God and Spiritual Friendship

July 15, 2009 - 2:28 pm 6 Comments

God Is Friendship
Spiritual relationships have a long history in religious tradition–it’s no surprise they can
help us on our own journeys.
By Brother Wayne Teasdale

Excerpted from “A Monk in the World” by Wayne Teasdale.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library.

Ananda, the beloved disciple of the Buddha, once asked his teacher and friend about the place of friendship in the spiritual journey. “Master, is friendship half of the spiritual life?” he asked. The Enlightened One responded: “Nay, Ananda, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.” Jesus had his beloved friend, John; King David had Jonathan; St. Francis enjoyed the constant companionship of Brother Leo and his special friendship with St. Clare, who led the Poor Clares, the Second Order of St. Francis. Aristotle regarded friendship, along with contemplation, as one of the highest goals of ethics. Cicero, the Roman writer, showed in his treatise on the nature of friendship that the Romans valued it as much as the Greeks. Plato discoursed on friendship in his dialogue the Lysis.

Monasticism in Europe in the twelfth century witnessed the explosion of spiritual friendship
under the inspiration of the Cistercians, or Trappists, whose monastic observance, reflection,
and contemplation favored the flowering of insight on the practice of spiritual friendship. These
monks knew more about the nature and value of friendship in their day than we do in ours. And
in India, a friend is cherished more than anything else. The reason is simple: While marriages on
the subcontinent are arranged, friendships are chosen, like they are everywhere else, and so
they are regarded as precious, lifelong commitments.
We may sometimes think of the spiritual life as being austere and lonely. But the truth is that building bonds between people is just as important as cultivating a practice and often the two go hand in hand.

Spiritual Friendship
An orientation to the Sacred makes a foundation on which lasting friendship can be built. Interest in, seeking of, and commitment to the Sacred, the Divine, in whatever form it may assume, provides the ultimate measure of growth in the lives of friends and within friendship itself.
Orientation to the Divine, to God and the spiritual journey, opens up an eternal dimension to the
friendship and permits a depth of sharing that doesn’t happen at sports events, the theater,
concerts, dances, or bars, where conversations tend to be limited to the popular culture of
games, politics, or the movies. The spiritual journey, the mystical life, presents an ultimate
context for the guidance of our friends and all our relationships to occur. It grants us a focus, a
destiny, and a container for our personal spiritual evolution that is lacking in many other spheres
of life, such as business, school, and recreation.
Having said all this, I have dozens of friendships with people who don’t share my Catholic
tradition, who often are not religious, though they are indeed spiritual, simply meaning they are
open to the depth of meaning in their lives. This is certainly true of my countless Tibetan friends,
who of course are all Buddhists. We don’t have God in common — at least not in the
conventional Christian sense — but we have the dimension of spirituality, the practice of
compassion and love. These friendships are deep and lasting.

Christ’s Example
Jesus clearly emphasized friendship with his disciples. The New Testament writers tell us of the great lengths he would go to stress a relationship with them based on love, or agape, as the Gospel calls it. This agapic love — friendship — is the key to grasping the message of Christ. In a very real sense, love is the message Jesus came into the world to teach; he came to impart this extraordinary knowledge and to transmit this capacity to us.

The Gospel proclaims, “God is love.” We might just as easily say, “God is friendship,” and St. Bernard of Clairvaux actually makes this claim. Near the end of his life and ministry on earth,
Jesus tells his followers: “I shall no longer call you servants….I call you friends.”

And as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, love, or charity, is the criterion for salvation. Agapic love is a friendship that responds to everyone we meet, spreading the Kingdom of Heaven on earth
through our openness to and care for others. Jesus invites us to extend our friendship not simply
to those with whom we feel a certain affinity, but to all. He teaches us that no merit exists in
loving those who love us and challenges us to love those we wouldn’t ordinarily include.

Spiritual friendship, based on agape, or selfless love, is universal. It is not limited to the personal preferences that often determine friendships. These preferences often lack the universal
availability to others required of spiritual friendship. Christ understood friendship on a much
higher level. He saw it as the bond connecting his community of followers, a bond characterized
by his selfless and self-giving sacrifice of himself. He defines love and friendship in these terms:
“Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man has, that he would lay
down his life for his friends.” It is this spirit, in my understanding, that characterizes the nature of genuine friendship, and even more so, its spiritual form. As a Christian monk, it is this ideal that inspires me in all my friendships. It is certainly true that I frequently fall short of this ideal, but I do keep it before me, and I take it very seriously. Friendship represents a dimension of deep
experience that, like a marriage, requires a steadfast commitment and a considerable amount of
work. It is not easy, and it must never be taken for granted.

Tools of Spiritual Friendship
The skills of friendship are many: other-centeredness, honesty, availability, willingness to listen,
sensitivity, generosity with time, helpfulness, the capacity to be completely yourself, and the
willingness to place friendship at the service of the community. These capacities, like so many
threads, weave friendship into a beautiful fabric, precious to those so blessed. All these skills
work together and are interdependent. To take one out is to unravel the whole fabric.
All friendship requires other-centeredness. A friend does not focus on self.

This other-centeredness must be based on honesty and a mutual caring. A deep trust must exist between friends that they are telling the truth. Honesty also extends to emotions. True friends do not suppress their feelings for each other, but often express them, when appropriate, and they are always willing to challenge each other when either perceives that something’s wrong. In this way, friends are vehicles for each other’s growth.
To develop true friendship, we have to actually be a friend to others. We cannot simply desire
friendship; we must live it. A true friend is always available; availability is a sign of a friendship’s authenticity. Friendship demands a willingness to listen, and this quality is closely aligned with availability; it is a listening with the intensity of the heart, not just to words, but to feelings as well. Such a listening is a form of sensitivity, allowing ourselves to feel and care, to be aware beyond our self-interest. This sensitivity is awareness itself, which is always growing in its capacity to understand and respond.
Friendship needs time, not simply in terms of its development, but in terms of its existential
reality. Friends simply have to commit to spend time together. Then time itself, as the friendship
matures, allows it to deepen and realization reveals to us how much of a treasure it actually is
for us. A true friend is always willing to help and never counts the cost of time or resources. This
skill for generosity is often tested, as are all the other skills. A spiritual friendship is predicated
on being a soul friend, a companion along the inner way, relating the relationship to its center in
the mystical life. Most of all, friendship means being totally yourself with your friend, and this
requires relaxation, being at home with friends, not somewhere else, and not tense. When I’m
with my friends, we are relaxed and we laugh with vigor and gusto. Spontaneity is expressed in
banter, teasing, and endless humor.

Finally, spiritual friendship serves the community; it has value not only for those involved in it but also for the wider circle of humanity that benefits from the fruits of the friendship. Everything we do or accomplish of a moral, psychological, and spiritual nature has an impact on others. We are here not simply for ourselves; we are part of a much larger fabric of being and life. This beneficial relationship to community is another expression of the other-centeredness so
essential in spiritual friendships.

Each skill is a tangible manifestation of love, and each requires its guidance. All these skills
work together in weaving that majestic tapestry of divine friendship enfleshed in human beings
here and now. No life is complete without this dimension of human association bridging the gap
between earth and heaven. As a monk living in the world, I have found it to be my greatest
human support.

Brother Wayne Teasdale is a lay monk who combines the traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the way of Christian sannyasa. He is an adjunct professor at DePaul University, Columbia College, and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he lives.

God Is Friendship or Spiritual Friendship
Spiritual relationships have a long history in religious tradition– it’s no surprise they can
help us on our own journeys.
By Brother Wayne Teasdale (Adapted as a Homily for Friendship Sunday)

Brother Wayne Teasdale was a lay monk who combined the traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the way of Christian sannyasin, or simple holy man. He is an adjunct professor at DePaul University, Columbia College, and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he lived in a monastic style until 2003.
I met him while he was lecturing in Florida, and we made an instant bond of recognition, as fellow spiritual travelers, and a friendship soon developed. ( knowing that person would be meaningful to you- no matter how long or short the time might be) We began a heartfelt correspondence- he was in Chicago, and I was in Florida and then Connecticut. However, he became suddenly ill, and his cancer was a fast, invasive one, so I never had the chance to see my new friend again. Nevertheless, he had quite a positive and inspiring impact on me- one I will never forget.

The spiritual journey, with all of its directives towards inner exploration presents an ultimate interpersonal context for the guidance of our friends and all our relationships to occur. It grants us a relational focus for our personal evolution that is lacking in many other spheres of life, such as business, school, and recreation. Orientation to life’s spiritual journey, opens up an eternal dimension to the friendship and permits a depth of sharing that doesn’t happen at sports events, concerts, dances, or bars, where conversations tend to be limited to the popular culture of games, politics, or the movies.
Having said all this, I have dozens of friendships with people who don’t share my Catholic Tradition. I have friends who are not religious, though they are indeed spiritual, which simply means to me that they are open to finding the depth of meaning and a lasting purpose in their lives.

2
What we do share is the heart centered dimension of spirituality, best expressed through the practice of compassion and love. These friendships are deep and lasting.
Ananda, the beloved disciple of the Buddha, once asked his teacher and friend about the place of friendship in the spiritual journey. “Master, is friendship half of the spiritual life?” he asked. The Enlightened One responded: “No, Ananda, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”
King David had Jonathan; St. Francis enjoyed the constant companionship of Brother Leo and his special friendship with St. Clare, Aristotle regarded friendship, along with contemplation, as one of the highest goals of ethics.
Cicero, the Roman writer, showed in his treatise on the nature of friendship that the Romans valued it as much as the Greeks. Plato discoursed on friendship in his dialogue, the Lysis.
Christ’s Example
Jesus clearly emphasized friendship with his disciples. The New Testament writers tell us of the great lengths he would go to stress a relationship with them based on love, or agape, as the Gospel calls it. He taught that “God is love.” We might just as easily can say, “God is friendship,” Near the end of his life and ministry on earth, Jesus tells his followers: “I shall no longer call you servants….
(or students) I call you friends.” (John 17)
Spiritual friendship, based on agape, or selfless love, is universal. It is not limited to the personal preferences that often determine other forms of friendships. These preferences often lack the universal availability to others required of spiritual friendship. Jesus understood friendship on a much higher level.

3
He saw it as the bond connecting his community of followers, a bond characterized by his selfless and self-giving sacrifice of himself. He defines love and friendship in these terms: “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man has, that he would lay down his life for his friends.”
3
Friendship represents a dimension of deep experience that, like a marriage, requires a steadfast commitment and a considerable amount of work. It is not easy, and it must never be taken for granted. The skills of friendship are many: other-centeredness, honesty, availability, willingness to listen, sensitivity, generosity with time, helpfulness, the capacity to be completely yourself, and the willingness to place friendship at the service of the community.
These capacities, like so many threads, weave friendship into a beautiful fabric, precious to those so blessed. All these skills work together and are interdependent. All friendship requires other-centeredness. A friend does not focus on themselves. To develop true friendship, we have to actually be a friend to others. We cannot simply desire friendship; we must live it. A true friend is always available; availability is a sign of a friendship’s authenticity. Friendship demands a willingness to listen, and this quality is closely aligned with availability; it is a listening with the intensity of the heart, not just to words, but to feelings as well. Such a listening is a form of sensitivity, allowing ourselves to feel and care, to be aware beyond our self-interest. This sensitivity is awareness itself, which is always growing in its capacity to understand and respond.
Friendship needs time, not simply in terms of its development, but in terms of its existential reality. Friends simply have to commit to spending time together. A true friend is always willing to help, and never counts the cost of time.
4
A spiritual friendship is predicated on being a soul friend, a companion along the inner way.
Most of all, friendship means being totally yourself with your friend, and this requires relaxation, being at home with friends, not somewhere else, and not tense. When I’m with my friends, we are relaxed and we laugh with vigor and gusto. Spontaneity is expressed in banter, teasing, and endless humor.
Finally, spiritual friendship serves the community; it has a important value not only for those involved in it but also for the wider circle of humanity that benefits from the fruits of the friendship. Everything we do or accomplish of a moral, psychological, and spiritual nature has an lasting impact on others. We are here not here on this earth simply for ourselves; we are part of a much larger fabric of being, relationship, and life. This beneficial relationship to community is another expression of the other-centeredness so essential in spiritual friendships.
Each skill we develop extends our ability to care and to serve. Those talents, when expressed through friendship and community sharing act as a tangible manifestation of love. All these skills work together in weaving that majestic tapestry of divine friendship enfleshed in human beings and to be expressed in the here and now. No life is complete without this dimension of human association, without the opportunity to share oneself, and to honor the gift of friendship.

Sharing Our Joys & Sorrows:

We have but one sacred duty in this life, and that is to make ourselves available to others.
You do this by sharing what you already are in this and in every moment.
If you are loving, then share your loving, thereby multiplying its good effects.
If you are suffering, then share your suffering, thereby dividing sorrow into manageable bits.
If you are healing, then share your healing, thereby healing broken places in yourself and in others.
Why waste a precious moment arguing or worry if what you have or who you are is not enough, or if you are useful… The world has need of your pieces of love, caring and healing…
Trust, that however unlikely it might seem, without your personal piece, without your sharing, the universe as we know it, would be incomplete.

Adapted From The Poem ” Leave Nothing Unsaid” by Carol Orsborn

Closing Words: By William Penn, the founder of the American Friends or The Quakers

Friendship: There can be no friendship where there is no freedom. Friendship loves a free air, and will not be couped up in straight and narrow enclosures. It will speak freely and take no ill where no ill is meant; Friendship will easily forgive and forget …
A true friend unburdens freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes in all patiently, defends courageously, and continues in friendship unchangably. These being the qualities of friendship, we are to find them before we choose someone as our friend.

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