Friday, March 13, 2009

Spiritual Friendship

Once upon a time there was a baby hippo that got separated from his pod, washed out to sea and was all alone. Many many people gathered to help him to safety, but since he had lost his mother and his family he didn’t eat and he was VERY unhappy. Then he discovered a 130 year old tortoise and he followed that tortoise around. Every time the tortoise moved away, the baby hippo followed him. Now the tortoise was a solitary animal and was used to being alone. He did not wish such close company. But after some time he accepted the baby hippo. When he ate, the baby hippo ate. When he found a cool place to sleep, the hippo slept right beside him. They have been together now for 3 years and this is a true story.

What is friendship? Friendship can be based on needs – perhaps these two animals formed a “friendship” on how they fulfilled each others needs. Friendships can also be based on common interests. And often that is what draws us to certain people. Perhaps you have a friends that loves to go to the art gallery or visit art shows. You share this interest and a wonderful friendship can be based on this. Or perhaps you form a friendship with someone because you share common experiences. You may have been raised in the same kind of culture, or had similar experiences as a child, or went through adolescence together at the same school. This can form a great friendship.

And then there is something called spiritual friendship, which calls the relationship to an entirely different level because it is not based on needs or common experiences or shared interest. It is based on spiritual principles and when we open ourselves to those possibilities we can experience some unlikely friendships – kind of like the tortoise and the baby hippo. Two people who seem to have nothing in common can form a powerful spiritual friendship. I have seen many friendships blossom and flourish here at Unity Church of Victoria and some of them are as unusual or unlikely as the relationship between the baby hippo and the tortoise.

We have several Transformative Prayer groups meeting within the church – and part of the mystery and wonder about this kind of friendship comes from the fact that often these people initially have nothing in common. They are not people who are naturally drawn together or who under different circumstances would necessarily spend time with each other. But that is the beauty of the friendship- it is based in Spirit. Not in our human-ness, but in the principle that each one of us is an expression of God. Each one of us is a unique creation of the divine. And when we see each other in that Light, and support each other in Truth, miracles happen.

The gifts of a spiritual friendship are trust, acceptance and love. Who would not want to experience these - trust, acceptance and unconditional love. Trust is knowing that you are safe with this person, that you do not need to place distance or armour when you are around them. That you can trust them to listen to you. Acceptance gives you the freedom to feel your feelings, say what’s on your mind without being judged or criticized. Because sometime we just have a bad day or a bad spell. When we are not feeling cheerful or upbeat. And with a friendship based on acceptance we don’t have to pretend to be who we are not. There are no masks. A friend will listen and be with us, never forgetting that we are really so much more than what is showing at this moment. And unconditional love – who wouldn’t want to know that someone recognizes the inner beauty and joy and wisdom and will love you and appreciate you even when you are not feeling worthy of it.

These are the gifts of a spiritual friendship. Can most of us say that we would love to have that kind of relationship. We could probably agree that that would be great and yes – let’s have it.

What I have just described is what we RECEIVE from a spiritual friendship. How do we get it? How do we receive it? BY GIVING IT.

When I first heard this - suddenly I am thinking – I am not sure I could be that good of a friend. I try to be loving but sometimes this person is so ____________ fill in the blank. I am accepting – most of the time…….

Now we come into the practice of spiritual friendship – because it is a spiritual practice. One that we can all learn and certainly one that we can always improve on. And one of the greatest gifts you will receive is finding someone who is willing to form a relationship based on spiritual practices. You wonder – are there any people around like that? Look around - you are probably surrounded by a few right now.

How do we learn to be a good friend? Pets are great teachers of some of the attributes of spiritual friendship. You come home and your dog runs up to you – absolutely delighted to see you and so happy to be in your company. You say – do you want something to eat? the dog wags its tail – yes! you ask the dog – would you like to go for a walk? the dog immediately responds – yes! you say to the dog – I don’t feel like walking – how about sitting on the couch with me – and the dog says yes! You say – I’m tired right now we’ll go for a walk later – yes! I didn’t buy you the best food, this was all I could afford and the dog says yes! you’re the greatest – whatever you do is great! They love and accept you every moment.

So we have some great examples of unconditional love around us. We would like to think we are accepting, trustworthy and loving. And then our friend does something so ______________. And then we think – well, with that kind of negative thinking – what do they expect to happen? If they would only pray more, or meditate every day – everything would turn around.

There is a name for this: metaphysical malpractice.

And there is a great example of this = guess where? the Bible – the place where we can read about all the strengths and the weaknesses of people just like you and me.

The story is Job. He has been a good man all his life. He has a wife, children, herds of cattle and sheep- a prosperous man in every way. Then everything is taken away from him – his family, his possessions and even his health. He is sitting in the dirt – wondering – how did this all happen – to me – a good man! Perhaps you can relate – but that is a different story.

The part of the story that we are going to explore right now is Job’s friends. The ones that come to comfort him and be with him in this disastrous time of his life.

Eliphaz – God is doing this to you for a reason. It is not yours to question. When God is good and ready, He will turn everything around – you need to be patient and wait. Just be patient.

Job – show me how your words are of comfort.

Bildad – You must have done something! Perhaps your children were sinful, maybe you have been too proud. You have forgotten God. You have brought this upon yourself. “God will not reject a blameless person” (job 8:20) You must have done something. As soon as you get right with God – God will get right with you. Here in Unity we use spiritual words like – there must be something in your consciousness that attracted this to you.

Job – your words are full of the east wind – blowing hot and scorching. “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? Even if it true that I have erred, my error remains with me” (Job 19:1-4) You do not need to remind me of what I know.

Zophar – things are so much more than you can imagine – you have no idea how great God is, or what is in the mind of God. You are obstinate and proud. No wonder God turns his face from you. It would take a miracle to change your life. “But a stupid person will get understanding when a wild ass is born a person” When hell freezes over……..repent and everything will be OK.

Job – “But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these?” (Job 12:3) “If only you would be silent – that would be your wisdom” (Job 13:5) “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes” (Job 13:12) do you think I do not know these things – I am not an idiot. Tell me something I don’t know. Job 16:1-5 – it easy to say in your shoes………..

Can you see where Job’s friends have totally missed the spiritual practice of friendship? They have been critical - you did this to yourself. they have been condescending – just be patient, you are experiencing this for a reason, its for your own good. They have been stand-offish – it would take a miracle to fix this mess – good luck.

I am going to add another trap we might fall into: the same thing happened to me….. Remember this is not your experience, so just stop.

This is metaphysical malpractice and we all need to aware how easy it is to fall into this trap – in the guise of being a good friend, we use spirituality as a weapon. Has anything that has been said been helpful or comforting or accepting or loving? When your friend is in pain – this is not a time to argue theology. One of my very first Unity teachers said: mind your own spiritual business.

In the end the prophet Elihu appears and says – “Let us choose what is right, let us determine among ourselves what is good” (Job 34:4) And I think these are beautiful words – words of comfort and empowerment. Let us (together) choose what is right.

Honour the connection your friend has with God. Hold the place for healing – even without words. Can you just BE with your friend? Listening, being a silent witness to their experience. St Francis said “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Just BE – it is a most precious gift to give and to receive.