Mac Stewart, a curate at All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City, has just written a post on friendship that brings together so many of the threads we’ve talked about here at SF over the years. It’s basically a one-stop primer on some classic Christian thinking about friendship. But Stewart is also concerned to talk about friendship’s contemporary relevance:
A Christian understanding of friendship as the richest and most intense possible form of human closeness may in fact be one of the gifts that Christianity has to offer a post-Christian world that now has a very hard time imagining forms of intimacy and affection that don’t involve genital contact.
Specifically, Stewart wants to encourage us all—married or single—to think about friendship as a site for deep devotion and affection:
[T]here is a whole wonderful realm of relational intimacy that our culture misses out on by loading all of its human-closeness eggs in the basket of specifically sexual intimacy. We tend to refer to these latter relationships as “romantic,” and yet perhaps our sense of romance here is a bit impoverished. Perhaps there is room for a kind of romance with our beloved friends: doing for one another the little deeds of affection that we often associate with a lover wooing his or her espoused, things like writing letters that affirm the beloved’s virtues and beauty, attending carefully to the things that delight their soul and spontaneously and gratuitously fulfilling them, forbearing with their irritating eccentricities while dwelling on their excellences, overcoming their occasional coldness with a deeper kindness.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of this post—which I had to reread several times to make sure I understood it properly—was this stray comment:
Christ has come, and has breathed on us his Spirit to make us human again. We ought therefore to hope for — and to show within the fellowship of Christ’s redeemed a model of — a kind of human closeness that is deeper than and is not dependent upon the exchange of seminal fluids. If sexual intercourse finds its only proper place in the male-female pair bound together in covenant and open to procreation, then our natural desire for human closeness — even perhaps physical closeness — must properly be consummated in something other than sex. What if this is friendship?
If I’m understanding Stewart correctly, he’s saying that we’re created and redeemed for human intimacy. It’s natural to us, so to speak—both because of how we were made and how we are being remade in Christ. And if that’s the case, then intimacy must be expressed and received by everyone, regardless of whether they are having sex or not. And if that’s the case, then we’re compelled to think about what closeness—even physical closeness—enjoyed and reciprocated actually looks like for the celibate person. (I think this is worthy of many more posts here at SF in the future, but for now, on the subject of male closeness, try reading this and this.)
Finally, I think it’s great that Stewart closes his post by pointing out that friendship is eschatological and Eucharistic:
[W]e tend to think of the phrase “till death us do part” as meaning “forever.” But that is exactly what it does not mean. Christians don’t believe that death is the end of our story as human beings, but rather the door from our brief earthly existence into our everlasting glory in the world to come. “Till death us do part” in the marriage vow means that marriage ends at that door. But friendship doesn’t. “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Friendship realizes what is highest and truest about us: that we exist for an eternal friendship with God and with one another in God.
Or as I put it once: “Marriage as we know it will fade away, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 22. But the kind of love that marriage pointed to will be the experience of everyone in God’s new creation. And that, it seems to me, is what friendship reminds us of here and now.”
Please do read Stewart’s whole post. It’s beautiful. Along with Ron’s old “300 words” post, it’s one that I’ll be sharing with people as a nice summary of the kind of thing we’re up to here at this blog.