Metaphors of Brotherhood and Sisterhood

This is just a quick post to note that we don’t use sibling metaphors a lot on this site, and maybe we should. They played an important role in articulating the meaning of vowed friendship in both Eastern and Western Christianity (the terms adelphopoeisis and “wedded brotherhood” both use this metaphor) and they reflect an understanding of friendship as a form of kinship.

Wesley Hill quotes me talking about the way that certain friendships, over time, take on the quality of givenness which we associate with familial relationships: You’re stuck with your brothers. You may not be able to see or speak to them, but they remain bound to you, a part of your family for as long as you live.

This shouldn’t be the only language we use for friendship, or even for spiritual friendship. Many people value the choice and freedom of friendship, whereas sibling language emphasizes givenness and permanence. The people who prefer free friendship kind of baffle me, to be honest–to me, rituals, promises, and obligations are adornments which beautify any relationship!–but our different personality types should be able to coexist.

I admit that the sisterhood metaphor doesn’t immediately grab me the way the simple term “friendship” does. If I see the word “sisterhood” in a movie title my first guess is that I am not gonna love that movie. My image of friendship is more AbFab, less Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; more Bridesmaids, fewer traveling pants. Plus I already have a sister, you know.

Moreover, sisterhood doesn’t imply growth toward Christ the way “spiritual friendship” does. Sisterhood is a kind of prolonged, fond conflict; it relies on shared history and the knowledge that the future will also be shared; it often makes us more humble and less narcissistic because it forces us to acknowledge and serve another person’s needs, but that growth in humility isn’t part of its basic nature the way it is for spiritual friendship.

But if we’re responsive to the Christian past, we find that sibling metaphors are a big part of how previous generations understood the kinds of friendships which became kinship. And in a culture which usually assumes that the only real and reliable adult love is romantic love, we do still have this understanding that someone can be “like a sister” to you. This language helps us remember what we already know: that there are nonsexual, non-romantic adult relationships which are enduring, formative of character, and even life-saving.

LYLAS, y’all.

2 thoughts on “Metaphors of Brotherhood and Sisterhood

  1. Pingback: Why Should A Straight Person Care About Spiritual Friendship? | Spiritual Friendship

  2. Pingback: The Everyday Touches of Life | Spiritual Friendship

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