“No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy.” —Saint Aelred
Saint Aelred of Rievaulx is known for his work on spiritual friendship. What a time to be confronted with the idea of spiritual friendship, when friendship might feel like the furthest-away love we are feeling. I can only speak for myself, but I feel challenged by what friendship looks like within the confines of my home. I wonder what friendship feels like for essential workers during this pandemic, as they put themselves at risk to serve, while simultaneously maybe feeling the need to distance themselves from those they love out of love. In so many conditions of this present human life, I feel the weight of how we understand friendship when distance from our friends is the loving way to continue being in friendship with them.
In the quote above, Saint Aelred says there is no better medicine than the gift of spiritual friendship. And yet, for some of us, we wait on this friend-borne medicine as patiently and with as much longing as we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. In this time of isolation, difference, and a masked reality, may we turn to Jesus and the gift of spiritual friendship that lives inside of our hearts. May we be reminded that the incarnation of Jesus Christ promises that God, embodied in Jesus, knew spiritual friendship in his life, and now knows how to arrive to us in our loneliness. Jesus does not theoretically want to be our friends; Jesus’ incarnation promises that we are beloved by God in this time of trouble, that Jesus cures the temporal illnesses of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.
This does not, however, feel on this side of the veil like an instant relief of those ills. Knowing this in my heart, I still stare alone into a screen instead of kneeling beside others at the altar. So, in this specific time, the truth of spiritual friendship looks profoundly temporal.
Inspired by St. Aelred, we might challenge ourselves by asking, How can my spiritual friendships become safely sacramental? What tools are safely accessible to me to offer outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual friendships around me that have arrived to me during my illnesses, as a cure?
During this time, I encourage us, as the Body of Christ, to make the spiritual as outward and visible as much as we can, while honoring the temporal ills that we face. I encourage us to make the virtual to be tangible as much as is safe, whether it is through letters, art, post-it notes, paper journals, or dog eared books.
Last week I got black cardstock and gel pens to write out my dreams. I’m taking a month off social media. I’m reading, highlighting, putting post-it notes of hairbrained thoughts onto walls that never expected to bear emotions. I’m not tweeting, I’m texting. I’m writing cards; I’m even making cards! During this time of virtual reality, I’m exploring how to make as much sacramental as I can, as much tangible as can be held. I’m trying to cultivate as much spiritual friendship as can be nurtured during this time when my ache is only for the body of Christ in my hand and the body of Christ beside me at the altar: the medicine of community.