At the beginning of Advent two friends each gifted me a book related to the season. Though it is wise not to judge a book by its cover, in this case I could tell by the authors, publishers, and even the titles that I would enjoy reading one, while the other would become relegated to the maybe someday pile. This made me consider the relationship I have with my friends, and I was surprised to discover the difference in how I relate to each of them. I was honest with myself about what it meant to call myself a friend in both cases, and I admitted the differences within our relationships that made for openness and understanding in one, and a more guarded, less committed response in the other.
When we encounter an affinity for someone based on shared values, beliefs, and even shared interests, we refer to them as kindred spirits. Often a natural understanding occurs almost immediately as we talk with one another, sharing our thoughts and perspectives. It is deeply satisfying when we realize we are understood for who we perceive ourselves to be and encouraging to receive confirmation in ourselves as individuals. Even more importantly being listened to, understood, and cared for in such a way often leads to bonds of trust that pave the way for vulnerability and growth.
In chapter 46 of the Rule, Benedict outlines a concept of accountability that challenges what it means to be a faithful friend to another. Though the Rule does not approach it from quite this angle, the point is that everyone is accountable to someone, whether it be a family, a community, an employer, or even humanity at large. Everyone needs someone to turn to who can and will listen to us especially when things go wrong without predetermining what our response should be or offering unsolicited advice. In the spirit of listening that is a part of genuine care and concern for others, the high road of friendship is clear; make a way for the one who needs to be free to discover for herself who she is and where she needs to change and grow, within the context of accountability.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” As I thought about my friend who I think of as a kindred spirit, I realized she has the gift of listening with the ear of her heart. Though we have much in common, it is her ability to receive me as I am and it is then I can in turn listen to the challenge in her response, if there is one. She challenges me by being herself and responding to me with honesty who I am.
Ironically, after glancing through both books I received, I realized the message in each was quite the same, with only a variance in the mode of expression that made me attracted to one book more than the other. I realized how the qualities of each of my friends works to sharpen various edges within me and I in them. I just happen to prefer the manner of one more than the other, probably because we speak the same language, though I realize now how grateful I am for both.
By Noel Poston, Oblate OSB