St. Aelred lays out a template for Spiritual Friendship in his book of the same name. He cautions his readers that in order to have close, spiritual friendship, everything about the relationship must be founded upon the love of God. He cautions that we must be especially careful that whatever we build atop this foundation fits with it. Whatever doesn’t fit the foundation must be corrected, using that foundation of the love of God as a template. In other words, if the building hangs over the sides of the foundation, bad stuff will happen.
Recently, I was discussing this passage with some folks one evening recently and I asked, “What does the love of God look like in practical terms?” None of them could name anything at all. I’ve been thinking about this silence since it happened and I’m unsure how I feel. If we want deep, fulfilling relationships with others but don’t know what God’s love actually is like, we want something that will always be out of reach.
One can go to 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, kind (isn’t rude), humble (doesn’t boast, not arrogant).
Romans 12: Humble (staying in our lane), rejoicing in hope, patient, thinks of others.
All of these things are, in fact, what Jesus, the perfect human, did.
If our friendships cause us to move out of our lane or make and/or encourage boasting, they aren’t godly. But how are we to know that if we can’t talk about what God’s love looks like as we live in its light?
In fact, I’m reminded of this hymn text by William Gadsby which says, in part:
The love of Christ is rich and free;
Fixed on His own eternally;
Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove;
Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.
His loving heart engaged to be
Their everlasting Surety;
’Twas love that took their cause in hand,
And love maintains it to the end.
Love cannot from its post withdraw;
Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law
Can turn the Surety’s heart away:
He’ll love His own to endless day.
Love has redeemed His sheep with blood;
And love will bring them safe to God;
Love calls them all from death to life;
And love will finish all their strife.
Love dies for someone else. Love brings an end to strife. Love lasts.
I’m going to be considering how each of my friendships moves me in this sort of direction. I am aware that some relationships do not encourage me in these areas. Those parts of the building are overhanging the foundation and are likely to fall off.