We went downtown tonight to The Flying Fish for our favorite fried catfish and frozen ‘ritas, with two dear friends. Friends we have known for 38 years. I wonder if that’s a Southern thing… to still be friends with people you’ve known since college… or even high school. One of these friends, the girl friend, came over yesterday morning for coffee, and as we shared some struggles we were both having, we commented on how good it is to have a friend with whom we have a history. We met our freshman year at Ole Miss. We’re both from Mississippi. We go to the same church. We both have adopted children. We’ve been through a lot together, and yet, we don’t always agree about everything. Sometimes we hit a “bump” in the road of our friendship. But we’re still here. We still love each other. And enjoy being together. So I came home and got out old photo albums... this is me with these dear friends in the summer of 1978… Jonathan, my 30-year-old helicopter pilot is asleep in my lap. He was 9 months old. (Forgive the sentimental digression… the older I get….well, you know.)
Over catfish she asked me if I had read the book, The Feast of Friendship, by Father Paul O’Callahan. Father Paul is coming to speak on Friendship at the annual women’s retreat sponsored by our church January 18-19. (It was originally scheduled for October but got re-scheduled.) I read the book a few years ago and was so impressed that I used it as the main source for a session of a women’s retreat I was giving in Austin, Texas in 2005.
Some of Father Paul’s main points mean even more to me now, two years later. I’ve made some new friends who are very special to me. And I’ve survived some battles with old friends… or rather, our friendship has survived. Tonight I got back out the notes from my retreat session and read them again. A few points really struck me:
Moral Development – Friendship is the crucible of the moral life, the relationship in which we come to embody the good by sharing it with friends who also delight in the good…. Growth in virtue is not accidental; it takes place through the ongoing relationships we have with people who are one with us in what we most deeply desire. These people are our best and closest friends, and because what we desire matters to them as well, it is with and through them that our moral development occurs.
Because what we desire matters to them. They value our treasures. And we value theirs. Whether or not we desire the same things. (Father Paul also talks about types of friendship in which people are drawn together by common interests, like sports, or books, or art, or music. And this is a good thing. But a soul connection can happen between friends who have very different interests, if they value one another.)
The Creativity of Friendship – Because we allow our friends access to the intimate spaces of our hearts, we place them in a position to deeply affect us…. Genuine friends grant us access to the most creative dimensions of our souls by receiving us and reflecting us back to ourselves…. [they] make us into a person we could have never become on our own…. [they] foster the development of our soul.
This was probably the most exciting section of the book for me. The friends who have giving me the boost I need to study iconography and take writing courses and write essays and short stories and even work on a book… The ones who have believed in me when I’ve been nervous about speaking at a retreat or giving an iconography lecture at a college (when I don’t even have a college degree and have always felt inferior). I hope that I can be that kind of friend to someone. To help them be all that they can be. And realize how wonderful they are.
Father Paul’s book also talks a lot about some of the issues and problems encountered in friendships. And about things like boundaries and distance and balance and sexual attraction and so forth. I’m really looking forward to the retreat, to hear him address these things personally. For now, I’ll only say a couple of more things about the book.
Suffering – He says that suffering is involved in friendship because of two things: Risk – there is pain involved when difficult circumstances arise in the relationship. Because we let ourselves love, we will also hurt. And Moral failings – betrayal and weaknesses can launch an assault on the friendship. The only way it can survive is through forgiveness. (which is what Father Sofian was talking about… see my post of December 7.)
Is it worth the risk? Fr. Paul thinks so:
In spite of how they [friendships] may hurt us, we are never the same again…. We have drunk deeply of their souls and they of ours.
So, why is friendship a feast? I’ll let Father Paul tell you how it’s sacramental, mystical and beautiful, (or you can read the book)… but I love that it’s iconic – “a form of love that beckons beyond itself.”…. as an icon does.
Always there’s a segue into icons…. so here’s an update on the Mother of God, Directress icon that I’ve been working on. I finished her face and hands, and got some highlighting done on the Christ Child’s face and hands this weekend. Photos of the icon in progress. Hope to finish this week… but tomorrow a friend (yes!) is coming over to help me clean up my icon studio, which has been a mess for about six months.
Here's the whole icon... with work left to be done on Christ's face and hands, and some decorative fringe on Mary's right sleeve.
Maybe we’ll listen to this while we’re working…. for sure I'll be thinking about it... You've Got a Friend.... from 1971 (!)