The Joy of Friendship – Br. James Koester

Aelred of Rievaulx, Monastic and Theologian, 1167

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 that we once prayed on this day:

Pour into our hearts, O 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 also speak of friends with benefits, or hook – ups, by which they mean people who enjoy physical intimacy, without the problem of emotional intimacy or commitment. Aelred, I think would be appalled by it all.

For Aelred, friendship was a sacrament of God’s love. It is a way, not the only way, but 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 mere 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 intimacy or commitment.

What many regard as friendship today, is not what Aelred wrote about, 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 found solely on a keyboard. While a computer may help to nurture such a friendship over time and long distances, it cannot replace the face – time that true friendship requires to survive and thrive.

In the same way, God longs for face – time with us, not the cursory click of a keyboard, or the fleeting acknowledgement that often passes for prayer, or a friend with benefits relationship that carries with it no degree of emotional honesty, intimacy, or commitment. To paraphrase John, and Aelred, for God so loved us that he gave his Son that we, clasping each the other’s hands, human and divine, might be friends with one another, and our joys heightened, and our sorrows mitigated.

Words Matter – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim WoodrumJames 3:1-23

There was once a young man who was beginning his spiritual journey in the religious life.  He sought the council of an old man who was well versed in spirituality, and asked him what all he must do to live a disciplined religious life.  The old man opened his Psalter and read the first verse of Psalm 39:  I said, I will keep watch upon my ways, so that I do not offend with my tongue.  “STOP!” cried the young man as the older was about to proceed; “when I have learned that I will come and receive further rules.”  And so he went away and at the end of six months, the older man, curious about the progress of the younger, sought him out and asked, “Are you ready to continue with the other lessons?”  “Not yet,” he replied. “I have not yet mastered the first one.”  Another five years passed and curiously the older man again sought out the younger. This time the young man replied, “I have no need of the other lessons, for, having learned that first rule, to master the tongue, I have gained discipline and control over my whole nature.”[i]

The past couple of Sundays, we have been hearing portions of the Letter of James.  I am struck by one of the Letter’s reoccurring themes: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness; if any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.[ii]  Considered “Wisdom Literature” of the New Testament, the author of the Letter is admonishing his audience to put right words into right action. Certainly, he seems to know something about the nature of speech. His use of metaphor instantly captures our imaginations and brings into focus a truth that is both easy to comprehend yet difficult to master. This morning we read:  Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.  Bits in the mouths of horses, small rudders guiding large ships, great forests being set ablaze by small sparks: all of these poetically call into question our mastery over this small, unruly member of our body: the tongue.  With it, he says, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. You might summarize this major theme of James’ Letter this way:  words matter.  What is your experience of this?  What metaphor would you use to illustrate the power of speech?  How have you come to know that words matter? Read More