Interim Rector’s Message
February 1, 2018
This article is about friendship, but let me set a context at the outset.
In addition to the Church’s liturgical calendar for the seasons and the well-known saints, the Church also has a calendar to remember and honor lesser known, but vitally important, followers who served the Lord and their fellow citizens in admirable and holy ways. This particular calendar has gone by a number of names over the years, including “Black Letter Days” (optional days of observance in contrast to the mandatory observances known as “Red Letter Days”); “Lesser Feasts and Fasts”; and “Holy Women and Holy Men – Celebrating the Saints.”
On this calendar, January 12th is the day the Church remembers and gives thanks for the life and ministry of Aelred, a Cistercian monk and the Abbot of Rievaulx (England) who died in 1167. His best known written work is entitled Spiritual Friendship. He taught that friendship is both a gift from God and a creation of human effort. This idea can be seen in the summary of the law that we hear in worship: The first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, friendship with God and friendship with neighbor.
A few weeks ago, I received a Christmas card from old friends from college. I probably have not seen them more than a couple of times over the last 40 years since graduation, but we do communicate via Christmas card. Since I recently retired, one of my resolutions is to take more time for correspondence, and in my case, that will be through the dying art of letter writing. I wrote my friends a letter and to my delight they wrote back – and we were able to catch up on many life events since we last saw one another. I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I been better about keeping up with friends?” I suppose many of you reading this might have a similar experience – life simply gets busy and friendships don’t necessarily end; they just drift off as other things press in to take our time.
While there are many qualities needed for true friendship, Aelred wrote of four qualities that to him characterize a friendship: Loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. These same qualities can be said to be valuable assets for families as well.
I invite you to take some time after reading this to reflect on your friendship with God and on your friendship with family and/or friends. Is there someone in your life with whom you would like to re-connect with or deepen your friendship? What is preventing you from doing this? Even though the traditional time to make “New Year’s Resolutions” may have passed on the calendar, I would urge you to make a resolution to reach out to a friend or loved one in the spirit of Aelred. This, I believe, is what he was getting at when he noted that friendship is a “creation of human effort” as well as a “gift from God.”
I know I experienced joy by reconnecting with my long ago friends. I’ve resolved to do more of this in 2018, and of course my excuse for not having done this over the years was, “Hey, I’m busy!” But, there’s some regret in that as I am learning day by day of the blessing of staying connected with those who have meant, and those who continue to mean, a great deal to me as fellow pilgrims along the way.
Perhaps William Barclay, theologian and biblical commentator, put it best when he wrote: “Let us remember to do things now, for the chance so often never comes again, and the failure to do them, especially the failure to express love, brings bitter remorse.”
So, thank you Aelred and thank you William Barclay, for reminding us of the importance of putting “human effort” into all of our relationships – our friendships – with God, with our family, and with our friends.