Today is the feast day of Aelred of Rievaulx. I have been meaning to read Aelred for a long time (rather like I have been meaning to remember how to spell Rievaulx), but it hasn’t happened yet.
Still, he is worth pondering on his feast day. Aelred’s gift to the church was the gift of friendship. In a time when ‘special friendships’ in the church were held suspect, Aelred suggested that such friendships were the very path to God.
Now, ‘special friendship’ had particular meanings in Mediaeval religious communities, and it is not always easy to be sure what is meant at any given moment. Sometimes, it seems to refer to what we might call ‘falling in love’; sometimes to desire; other times to the child-like, but still potent, concept of ‘best friends’; and otherwise, to any noticibly strong friendship that exceeds the depth of relationships around it.
Friendship comes in many forms, all of which are worth treasuring. But I think Aelred is right to single out the deep friendships that shape us and draw us more fully into God.
Spiritual friendship is a particular thing. It exists when we know that the other is as forever committed to us as they are to God; to our journey with God as much as their own. And that commitment is not diminished by time or place or changing circumstances. Not even by occasional neglect or misunderstanding.
Spiritual friendship has the givenness of the eucharist. Though we have done nothing to deserve it, it is given for us, and remains true.
So, we give thanks for Aelred, today; and for all those we have been given in friendship.
Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.