I recently spent three weeks back at Virginia Seminary for my doctoral studies. It was an intense session with classes every morning, most afternoons, and even some weekends. One of the classes I took was about the theology and psychology of human development. We studied the way that we develop from infancy through adulthood from psychological and theological perspectives, from what is ideal to what can go wrong. It was one of those fascinating courses in which we explored so much, that I know I will keep revisiting concepts the rest of my life.
One of the things in the readings for this class that really caught my attention is friendship. Psychologically, friendship is vital to our well-being. It is even critical to our physical health: people with close friendships are physically healthier than people who are isolated and live longer and healthier lives. Unfortunately, despite all of the “friends” we have on Facebook, close friendships are declining in America.
Theologically, friendship is an important part of our faith. Jesus called us friends. Augustine imagined friendship as being related to the imago Dei, the image of God, making friendship sacramental: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Brother John of Taize, who recently visited St. Mary’s, once wrote that friendship is the Face of God on earth. The most famous Christian treatise on friendship is from the 12th century English monk, Aelred of Rievaulx. He envisioned friendship as the way we embody God’s love on earth.
The friendships we form at church are vital. Friendship is not something you can force, but it is something you can foster. There are many techniques, but one of the critical and foundational ones is simply showing up to each other. You cannot make friends if you are not in close proximity to others on a regular and consistent basis. (This is one reason it is easier for kids to make friends than adults: they are in such close proximity to their classmates day in and day out.) So, where do friendships form? Over a round of Bocce Ball at the annual picnic, while enjoying a cup of coffee after church, side-by-side serving potatoes and eggs at Saturday Breakfast, sorting items together for the Parking Lot Sale, studying Scripture with someone in a Bible Study. Friendships are good for our emotional and spiritual health. Show up, form friendships with each other, and see the Face of God in the process.
Rector's Closing Thoughts is a monthly column in our newsletter, The Bellringer. The Rev. Bingham Powell is the Rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Eugene.