Easy at first, the language of friendship
Is, as we soon discover,
Very difficult to speak well, a tongue
With no cognates, no resemblance
To the galimatias of nursery and bedroom,
Court rhyme or shepherd’s prose,
And, unless often spoken, soon goes rusty.
(W.H. Auden, “For Friends Only,” Collected Poems)
This week our morning prayers have been led by Anna, our MTh student from Russia. For her theme, Anna chose to reflect on friendship. That seemed to reverberate with a number of us who sat in the circle. I guess especially in a place like IBTS, where most of us are away from families and familiar cultural contexts, we cannot help but be acutely aware of the importance of the practice of friendship, even though it is still often depreciated in Christian circles as a ‘lower’ type of relationship compared with the non-preferential love which the lovers of Greek often term as agape.
Knowing reciprocal love means being enabled to love those who won’t reciprocate it: strangers and enemies. It is a paradox similar to other paradoxes of the Kingdom: those who give away are enabled to give away even more.
Listening to the prayers this week, I was also reminded of Aelred of Rievaulx, that 12th century Northumbrian saint, who longed for the days of fullness to come when “this friendship, to which here we admit but few, will be outpoured upon all and by all outpoured upon God, and God shall be all in all” (Spiritual Friendship, 3:134).