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Aelred of Rievaulx – Br. James Koester

We remember today Aelred, the twelfth century abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in northern England, who died on this day in the year 1167. Aelred is most remembered for his writings on the gift of friendship, hence the marvelous collect we have been praying today:

Pour into our hearts, 0 God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love,
that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy
of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant
Aelred draw many into your community of love….

The gift of friendship, both human and divine, which we celebrate today, is perhaps one of the most debased gifts of our time, for we can ‘friend’ any number of people, many of whom we have never met in person, with the click of a computer key. At the same time we can ‘un-friend’ them just as easily. People today speak of ‘friends with benefits’, by which they mean people who enjoy physical intimacy, without the ‘problem’ of emotional commitment. Aelred, I think would be appalled.

For Aelred, friendship was a sacrament of God’s love. It is a way in which you and I can taste here and now the mystery of God’s love for us. God has not ‘friended’ us with the click of a computer key, and nor will God ‘un-friend’ us with the click of the same key. At the same time, God does not regard us simply as a ‘friend with benefits’ without the complexity of emotional commitment.

What many regard as friendship today is not what Aelred wrote when he described friendship as “the medicine of life” for friendship, Aelred says, “heightens the joy of prosperity and mitigates the sorrows of adversity by dividing and sharing them. Hence the best medicine in life is friendship.”

It is only in true friendship that we can know and be known in ways that heal our sorrows and multiply our joys. Such friendship takes hard work and a level of emotional commitment not often found on a key board. While a computer may help to nurture such a friendship over long distances it cannot replace the “face-time” that true friendship requires.

In the same way, God longs for “face-time” with us, not the cursory clicks of a key board, for God so loved us that he gave his Son that we might be friends and our joys heightened and our sorrows mitigated.

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9 Comments

  1. Jeff schiffmayer on August 2, 2015 at 18:43

    The problem is, and the reason most Christians avoid face to face friendship of the kind you describe is that it involves two profound subjectivities with limitless capacity for sin and confusion, so that without a respomsible pastor, or. Better yet, a community of responsible, comrades and trusted leaders, the inevitable result will be very painful if not disastrous. And that leader/ those leaders, have to be in humble and mutually submissive/ faithful relationships as well. So though I agree with your vision, and Aelreds, I would caution people against rushing out to find this “gift.” Until they see the leadership team In operation and available, and then be prepared for the cross. Yours, jeff schiffmayer

  2. Tudy Hill on August 2, 2015 at 09:23

    Bob Jeffrey has provided an excellent summary for Brother James’ thoughts on something so important to ALL of us!

  3. Christopher Engle Barnhart on August 2, 2015 at 09:02

    Thank you for reminding me of what true friendship is.

  4. Ann on August 2, 2015 at 08:43

    I disagree — I have some very deep friendships that do not depend on face to face time. If you have not had one – you have no basis to judge what is possible.

  5. Very Revd Bob Jeffery on March 11, 2015 at 11:53

    A very wise priest said to me recently.”I only know of one form of evangelism.It is called friendship”

  6. Betsy Bates on February 12, 2015 at 12:02

    Thank you, James, I will be forwarding this to many of my friends who are such a blessing. Betsy from Maine

  7. anders on February 11, 2015 at 09:53

    Thanks for the insight that friendship is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Like the Spirit, friendship is a wild card of faith, looking at our greater interests and love beyond our immediate likes and desires. Having spent time in other cultures, I see how American male friendship in particular has suffered due to homophobia which is often selectively biblical-based. My healing owes in no small part to church leaders who are accepted as homosexual. I share my deep gratitude to them and other like-minded community members for their gift of making me aware of my fear of others and myself to become open to greater and deeper friendship, where neither keyboards nor physical intimacy come into play, and it is good.

  8. Polly Chatfield on February 11, 2015 at 09:47

    Thank you, dear James, for helping us remember to pray for the gift of friendship. Friendship is comfort when in sorrow, strength when in adversity, and delight when in joy – one of God’s greatest blessings.

  9. connie smith on February 11, 2015 at 09:09

    thank you for reminding me of the community of friendship

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