I just finished reading St. Aelred of Rievaulx’s short work “Spiritual Friendship”. I love reading old texts on things that feel hopelessly modern. And I especially love reading old texts on things that I enjoy with an almost obsessive energy. Particularly when I think a text will validate my efforts.
This book did not turn out the way I wanted it to. Instead, I found myself confronted with a myriad of failings that I fell into as I attempt the difficult activity of friendship. I’m sure it could be argued that I take something very simple and natural and make it difficult instead of easy and organic. But I’d argue that very few things in life are simple or easy, and that if you find them easy, it’s probably because you’re not interested in taking the time to learn the nuances.
This is the same person who has taken grilled cheese to an art form previously unknown in the culinary world, so it’s possible that I’m wrong on multiple fronts.
My theory is that anything that’s good simple is even better with detail and depth. To that end, I started this exciting project that is researching friendship and how to do it correctly.
Aelred was a monk. So his concept of friendship is in a lot of ways enhanced and supported by monastic living and a culture of poverty and equal dependence all based directly in each man’s relationship to Christ.
The trick is then translating this to a secular world context, where I may be in contact with a predominance of Christians, but certainly not as dedicated a bunch as you might encounter in a monastery.
What most caught me about Aelred’s depiction of friendship was that it so closely mirrored what I have heard a marriage should look like. Themes of trust, loyalty, openness, gentle correction, kindred spirits, faithfulness, and a love that is the basis for all of it, that is everlasting.
I’m not silly enough to imagine then that I could marry my best friend, or that marriage itself can be boiled down to what I’ve listed and provides no other complications, but I think for so long I’ve been under the assumption that single people suffer under the burden of having inferior relationships.
Friendship is a term so loosely thrown about, and so often unfortunately temporary, that we begin to think it’s as tenuous a bond as any grade school romance. It’s been my experience that friendship should and can be an enduring bond that brings strength, growth, maturity and a closer unity with God the longer it continues.
To that end, and on a very personal note, I’ve never felt that my life was especially lacking because I’m not married. Naturally, there are things I am missing out on by not having this relationship in life, but what I mean to say is that I find myself working so diligently at retaining the delightful friends I currently have, and so enamored by their differences and fascinating traits that get revealed level after level, that I’ve not had time to mourn the “missing out” that most people pity me for.
I’m old enough to know that not everyone is blessed to have babies, and that not everyone is blessed to marry, but we are all blessed with the ability to make and retain friends. To me this is one of the more fundamental forms of relationship, and therefore an important and valuable form to continue perfecting over the years.
Right now I’m at a coffee shop and I’m seeing all around me this act of friendship being played out with duos – two men in the corner, two women across from me, two girls next to me that are working out friendship through homework. The human need to relate, to exchange ideas, to laugh, to mourn, to reveal their heart and share the burden of their friend is so innate, so common place that we seek any venue or opportunity to do so.
It’s beautiful watching friendships all around me, and it is something I’m happy to say I’ll keep pursuing and digging at, working to get deeper to the heart of it in the hearts of those around me.