Back in September, I wrote a post about friendship, “Risking Friendship, The Secret of Happiness,” here. In the same post I mentioned our church’s annual women’s retreat, which was scheduled for November, but had to be re-scheduled because of a death and funeral. Now it’s this weekend: Friday & Saturday, January 18 & 19, at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis.
Conversations with two dear friends last night and this morning have spurred me to post about this topic again.
First, about the retreat. The speaker is Father Paul O ‘Callahan from St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita. (Here is he, with his family.) He’s the author of the book, The Feast of Friendship. I used his book as the primary source for one of the talks I gave at a women’s retreat in Austin about two years ago. Titles for his talks are:
“Eternal Communion: Friendship and the Meaning of Salvation”
“A Barren Field: Modern American Individualism”
“Real Friendship: What it Looks Like” and
“Soul Friend: The Role of Spiritual Father”
When I first read Father Paul’s book, I thought, “oh, my. I can’t believe this was written by a man. He’s so in touch with his feminine side!” (For those of you not familiar with Jungian psychology, that’s a good thing.) I’ve met Father Paul personally, when I visited Wichita a number of year ago, But I’ve never heard him speak, so I’m looking forward to the retreat. But not just to have my ears tickled by a good speaker. As I told someone on the phone today, I’m looking forward to what God has for all of us in the way of learning how much our salvation is wrapped up in one another… how much we need each other… and how to have healthy, salvific friendships. Some of us in this parish have known each other for 40 years. Other friendships are new. All are priceless.
In preparing for the retreat, I re-read several passages of Fr. Paul’s book today, and I’d like to share a few quotes here, and a few of my own reflections. From 3 sections of the book:
(1) The Achievement of Personhood
Love, freely given, manifests the essential relatedness of a person to others. Thus, the individual who cannot love fails to develop true personhood…. the one who loves fully becomes his own identity through communion with others….The achievement of human personhood therefore is unthinkable apart from the drive for communion. It is undeniable that relatedness is a fact of human existence from the moment of our conception. We are conceived in the fire of passionate relations between two people. We develop in the nurturing womb of our mother. We experience our relatedness first at her breast, and then with our father and siblings, relatives and neighbors. We find out soon enough that our existence has occurred in the nexus of particular communities, and then discover the place of those communities in the larger realm of the human race in the world. We venture into friendships, integrate into all kinds of associations, find lovers, marry, and beget children. Even the most distinctly biological aspects of our generation and socialization do not and cannot occur apart from personal relationships. When one becomes fully conscious, one recognizes the dimension of communion that is possible, may actually underlie, and is often manifest in such relationships. The highest and most fulfilling are those in which a genuine experience of communion between persons takes place in utter freedom: friendships and marriage.
I know there’s a lot in there. Read it again, if you have time. I’m big on the aspect of freedom that he talks about here, and in much greater detail later. We choose our friends and our spouses, but not our parents or our children. But then they become part of our “tribe” in a sense. Part of who we are as persons. Part of the realm in which our personhood develops. They’re not optional, if we want to develop into whole, mature persons.
(2) 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…. They discern and seize upon our deepest spiritual aspirations and encourage us to strive more mightily to realize them than we could ever do alone…. They recognize our genuine gifts and talents, and embolden the humble expression of them….Fundamentally, genuine friends grant us access to the most creative dimensions of our souls by receiving us and reflecting us back to ourselves.
I have a friend that does this, and it is a beautiful and sacred gift. Without her love, I am sure I would never have believed in myself enough to paint an icon. Or write a book, or even an essay. Or speak at a women’s retreat. Or face down some of my demons. She teaches me how to be a friend, and hopefully, I can learn to be that to others.
(3) Issues and Problems in Friendships: Needs, Possessiveness, and Expectations
If perfect intimacy is to be attained and preserved in a friendship… certain basic principles must be honored. The first is the absolute necessity of maintaining distance in the relationship. We may imagine that the common dimension shared by friends exists in the delicate space in between them…numerous forms of over-identification can collapse it, such as possessiveness, inappropriate expectations….The freedom and autonomy of real persons are precisely the prerequisites of genuine friendship….one trusts the character of his friend and thus setting rules for his behavior is out of the question…. The development of highly specific sets of expectations among friends… at bottom… betrays a lack of trust. It reveals the desire to regulate and control the other…. True friends relish the distance between them as much as the communion that unites them. This is because they recognize that the distance between free, whole, autonomous persons is the essential precondition of their relatedness.
Okay, I could talk about this forever, but I’ll try to be brief. I have parents who told me what to do while I was growing up. And then some. But they were supposed to tell me what to do. They were my parents. Not my friends. I had teachers growing up, and even now, iconography instructors and writing instructors, who tell me what to do, although sometimes they only make suggestions, but they’re supposed to tell me what to do. They are my teachers. Not my friends. I have a spiritual father who only tells me what to do if I ask him to. Thank God. Sometimes I want him to be my friend. But I need him to be my father. It gets confusing at times. But I trust him. And he trusts me and never tries to control me. So I guess he’s also my friend.
I was part of a cult for seventeen years. We were taught to control each other’s behaviors. It wasn’t a healthy place to learn friendship. But some of us who survived and came into the Orthodox Church together in 1987 have been re-learning it together. Trying to figure out how to preserve that precious space that must exist between two Real Persons in order for them to become Real Friends.
I think Father Paul O’Callahan understands these things. I’m looking forward to his talks this weekend. And to spending time with my friends.
Speaking of friends. Two more came over today. First, my friend Nancy. The one I actually met at Starbucks about four years ago. She signed my cast “Starbucks Nancy” and cheered me up with this beautiful butterfly on my cast. And a latte.
Later my realtor, Linda, dropped by with yet another latte, and our earnest money on the house we lost because ours hasn’t sold yet. Not her fault. Or Saint Joseph’s. An Theli O Theos. As God wills.
Thank God for friends.