I’ve long known the truth of Martin Buber’s line: “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” It’s the same message that Jesus speaks in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”
I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the classic stories of spiritual friendship, especially in the Catholic tradition: Francis of Assisi and Clare, Therese of Lisieux and Maurice Belliere, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Hildegaard of Bingen and Bernard of Clairvaux, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and Peter Abelard and Heloise.
It was with great interest, then, that I read “Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship” by journalist Mary DeTurris Poust. Her text examines examples of spiritual friendship from well-known saints, writers, and modern religious leaders an instructions on how to cultivate meaningful relationships in a world where people feel increasingly isolated despite all the technology and social networking tools designed to keep us connected.
Why are spiritual friendships important? Poust explains, “Spiritual friendship is connected to our God-given mission, our calling to live out our faith in the everyday world….They are not about possession but about transformation.”
However, these bonds aren’t entirely up to us to form. Poust quotes Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who reminds us that God chooses our companions for us. Lewis asserts, “The friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.”
Take the example of how Dorothy Day met Peter Maurin, her partner in the Catholic Worker movement. In 1932, Day was in Washington, DC reporting on a hunger march. She escaped to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where she prayed that God would make known to her a way she could use her talents in service to the working poor. When she arrived home, Peter Maurin was waiting on her doorstep.
The best spiritual friendships bring us closer to God and teach us to love like Jesus did. In his “Letters,” Maurice Belliere writes this to Therese of Lisieux: “There is no doubt that Jesus in the Treasure but I found Him in you. And He was easier to approach. And it is still through you that He will come to me from now on, won’t he?”
I love that, as I experience it often in my own friendships. These spiritual bonds strengthen us, purify us, and transform us, just as Poust asserts in her insightful chapters.