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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