In my post, Befriend The Church, we introduced the radical implications of what it means when we love each other as Christ loves us—when the defining characteristic of our friendship is based on the divine, self-sacrificial love of Jesus (see John 15). This is when the work of our beloved abbot from the 12th-century monastery of Rievaulx, St. Aelred, really starts to reveal the fibers that make up spiritual friendship.
You may have heard of the passage in 1 John that says, “God is love.” Aelred reflects on this, that if God is love, and that love is only known through relationship, and that relationship can be particularly understood through the grace involved in a divine friendship, then that means God is the very basis for our entire definition of friendship. God isn’t just the perfect example of the loving actions we should extend towards our friends. He literally defines what love is.
Therefore, if God is love, and love binds friends, then God is friendship. If it is Christ’s love that binds us in friendship with him and each other, then he is the very force that makes our connection with each other through friendship in its purest form possible. His Spirit is the magnetism that draws us together.
As we’ve already stated, the truest, purest friendship we can possible have is with Jesus Christ. But something unfathomable happens when we have friendships with others who share the same divine friendship with Christ. Aelred says that the best of friends share a common love of Christ, and the results are friendships of incalculable value. Now, as friends through Christ, our friendship is not merely a matter of flesh and blood. Our spirits are involved.
Hence, spiritual friendship.
When we gather with our friends, our truest friends—the friends whose lives are founded on Christ—then the very presence of Christ is there, too. In his book, when one of his friends sits down beside him, he writes, “Ah, here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst” (Spiritual Friendship, p. 30)
To Aelred, friendship is being together in Christ. These are friendships who love each other as Christ loves them, and together love Christ with all their might. They’re friendships that are committed to each other with an undying passion, who are willing to lay themselves down for each other, and want nothing but the absolute best for the other person, which is ultimately to help them develop in their virtue and character; to become a better person. All this because Christ is literally, actually, concretely gathered in their midsts.
In the community of the Church, as spiritual friends, God is the force that binds us. God is who forms us through community. God is the love that unifies us through friendship to be the physical representation of Christ’s presence on earth—because God is friendship.
When was the last time you considered all this while being with your Christian friends, or when you gathered to worship on a Sunday?
This drastically changes how we consider going about our friendships, doesn’t it?