So, one of the reasons why I like this book so much is that the authors take a serious look at celibacy and friendship. In order to do this, they were forced to do the same thing I had to do when I began researching spiritual friendship between the sexes: they had to go outside the Protestant tradition for any kind of serious treatment of friendship.
They survey the attitudes of early church tradition sifting through the misogynistic messages of the Church Fathers. They explore both the good and the bad of monasticism. "The monastic tradition can offer a beautiful picture of community and celibate friendship." However, any close study of the monks immediately uncovers fears about getting too closely attached in friendship--same-sex or cross-sex. But they acknowledge communities where close friendships were encouraged.
They turn to one of my favorite contemporary Catholics, Ronald Rolheiser. After quoting Rolheiser on the positive impact of close but platonic cross-gender friendships, they observe, "This idea that two celibate individuals of the opposite sex may have a 'life-giving' intimate relationship that does not lead to sex is a radical one--one that our evangelical culture has a difficult time embracing. As we have seen in previous chapters, the evangelical church's obsession with sex often mirrors that of the secular world."
"in our own culture's view, a view that we have generally interiorized and made our own, to love means to make love, to be a lover. Platonic hetereosexual friendship is seen as too incomplete, too empty, or as simply unrealistic."
However, along with Rolheiser, they believe that the church "can forge a stronger conception of friendship that enables individuals to come together in a true community where individuals may give love and be loved without always defining love in terms of sexual activity."
They quote Rodney Clapp: "A right understanding and practice of singleness is crucial to the health of Christian family--especially in the postmodern world. To put it strongly, there is at least one sure sign of a flawed vision of the Christian family: it denegrates and dishonors singleness."
Back to Rolheiser: "In its maturity, sexuality is about giving oneself over to the community, friendship, family, service, creativity, humor, delight, and martyrdom so that, with God, we can help bring life into the world."
Then quote Doug Roseneau and Michael Todd Wilson that singles need "to master the skills for going beyond their sexual longings to a larger capacity for love."
They believe that "Instead of becoming lost in depression or consumed with finding a spouse, Christian singles need to look around and see what needs we might be able to address as we channel our desires for community into love for our neighbors."
Colon and Field's suggestion for a "stronger conception of friendship" for singles and families in the evangelical community is utterly refreshing and significant. As single women who are approaching forty, they have first-hand experience on evangelicals in the West romanticize marriage and exalt family.
When men and women--Christians from the past opened themselves up to the fullness of God's love through the medium of spiritual friendship, they experienced profound relational depth and community.
Consider these clips from spiritual friendships before the West romanticized marriage:
Ruth to Naomi:
"Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her...But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." (Ruth 1:14, 16).
Jonathan’s soul bound to David’s:
"As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." (1 Sam.18:1).
David’s lament after Jonathan died:
"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women." (2 Sam. 1:26).
The Church Father, St. Basil the Great:
“For what is a friend, in fact, but a partner in love? You unite your innermost being to his, you join your spirit to his, you blend so thoroughly with him that your aim is to be no longer two but one. You entrust yourself to him as to another self.”[i]
Basil again in a sermon:
"So, my sons, take good care of the friendship you have entered into with your brothers: in the whole range of human life, there is nothing more beautiful than this. It really is a comfort in this life to have someone to whom you can open your heart, someone with whom you can share your innermost feelings …in whom you can entrust the secrets of your heart."[ii]
Basil writing to a close friend:
"It is impossible for me to forget you even for the briefest moment--I would sooner forget myself."[iii]
Paulinus to Severus:
"We have one heart and soul together in the Lord." In another place, he states, "For we always loved each other so scrupulously that no affection could be added to our mutual love except the charity of Christ."[iv]
Augustine reflecting on a friend:
"I felt that his soul and mine had formed one soul in two bodies."[v]
Elmer a monk (1128-37) to a friend:
“I cannot tell you, my most beloved, with what sweetness, with what efficacy of spiritual desire, my mind embraces your soul in the intimacy of holy love, when it remembers gently your goodness.”[vi]
Peter a monk to a friend, Bernard:
“And so it is always something sweet for us to speak with you, and to keep a honeyed sweetness between us in our love through joyful talks.”[vii]
Franciscan Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) eulogizing a his friend, Vincent:
“He was always so closely united to me and loved me with all his soul. In religion he was an older brother to me; in love he was another self.”[viii]
This depth and language was similar in cross-gender friendship, too:
The Catholic saint, Dominican Jordan of Saxony to Diana:
“You are so deeply imprinted on my heart, that I could never forget you; indeed I remember you all the more often, the more I come to realize that you love me genuinely with all your heart. The affection you have inspires me a more ardent affection in me, and stirs my mind all the more powerfully.”[ix]
Francis de Sales (1567 to 1622) to Jeanne de Chantal:
“I am inseparable from your heart and, speaking the words of the Holy Spirit, we now have only one heart and one soul, because I find that what is said of all the Christians of the early Church is, thanks to God, now true of us."[x]
[i] Carmichael, Liz. Friendship : Interpreting Christian Love. London ; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004, Cited in 48.
[ii] Ibid., 47-48.
[iii] White, Carolinne. Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century. Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1992, 74.
[iv] Ibid., 158.
[v] Ibid., 189.
[vi] McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship & Community : The Monastic Experience, 350-1250, Cistercian Studies Series No. 95. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1988, 236.
[vii] Ibid., 257.
[viii] Wright, Wendy M. Bond of Perfection : Jeanne De Chantal & François De Sales. New enhanced ed. Stella Niagara, N.Y.: DeSales Resource Center, 2001, 116.
[ix] McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship & Community : The Monastic Experience, 350-1250, Cistercian Studies Series No. 95. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1988, 396.
[x] Wright, Wendy M. Bond of Perfection : Jeanne De Chantal & François De Sales. New enhanced ed. Stella Niagara, N.Y.: DeSales Resource Center, 2001, 150.