Catholic author, journalist, and speaker Mary DeTurris Poust has written a delightfully refreshing, engaging book on nurturing the Catholic tradition of spiritual friendships in our current culture: Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Written for a popular audience, she nevertheless puts forth our calling as contemporary Christians to move beyond modern expressions of friendliness and detachment to spiritual friendships centered in the love of God. She notes, "The problem is that despite all our 'favorites' and our 'buddies' out there in the land of plenty, we are hungry for a real connection." I was thrilled to find Francis de Sales was her spiritual mentor for her outlook on spiritual friendships and therefore, this book. While Francis is a recognizable name in Catholic spirituality, many evangelicals are not acquainted with him.
I'll highlight some of her points:
1. The Triune community calls us to spiritual friendship.
Poust carries on the great tradition of anchoring our longings for deep companionship and oneness in the great story of the Triune friendship. She repeatedly notices the deep hunger humans have for relationship, love, connection, communion. And she goes back to the story of the triune love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. A theme in her book is to draw out the beauty of the deep relational longing against the backdrop of a society which conditions us to settle for what is superficial, temporary, and detachment in relationships. Notice her simple but profound observation: The Father, Son, and Spirit are generous with one another and are in constant connection. And yet the three persons are distinct and separate from one another, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing the other."
2. Spiritual friendship is two people bound together by a love of God.
Poust encourages us to see the depths of beauty, goodness, and connection by those who are bound by the love of God in their friendship. Again with simple prose packed with power, she draws us to the wild, generous, beautiful, life-transforming love of God in forming and nuturing spiritual friendships. Far too often in our contemporary society "love" and "friendship" in Christian community is rather tame, domesticated, agenda driven, or church-based (i.e. friendship formed according to a local community's values, agendas, expectations).
Poust does not allow us to settle for such narrow friendships for the love of God cannot be easily packaged, programmed, confined, or tamed. This is a point I tried to make in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions--a point I borrowed from David Bentley Hart in his book, The Beauty of the Infinite: "beauty crosses boundaries." The striking beauty of the love of God is that it inspires us to wild, unpredictable, spontaneous, Spirit-led freedom to cross social, cultural, religious, and gender boundaries--boundaries more anchored in the "old" ways of doing community. Instead, spiritual friendships invite us to the renewing, recreating, ever-deepening love of God in the new creation, in new communities of men and women.
So for Poust, the beauty of this life-giving, wild love can be found between two people who come from two different faiths. She recalls Thomas Merton's friendship with Daiesetz Suzuki, a Zen master. Some of us brought up in more "conservative" communities might have difficulty wrapping around brains around that. Or, this love may call two people who into ever-deepening giving and receiving, opening themselves to the fire of the Spirit in friendship: "What starts off as a spark of a spiritual friendship can eventually develop into a fire of spiritual love." Or, the love of God may summon a man and woman into the depths of a passionate celibate love: single or married but not to each other.
It was refreshing to see Poust is open to the love of God in male-female friendships.
3. Spiritual friendship calls us to an inclusive, passionate sexual wisdom.
Poust does not believe the fire of God's love should be confined or tamed into same-sex friendships or limited to marriages only: "We cannot discard passion and check it at the door simply because we have developed a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex." Regular readers of faith dance know, I am always looking for Christians and Christian communities who do not adopt a Freudian/cultural view of sexuality in their views of friendship between men and women. Poust does not disappoint. Anyone who can step forth out of the pressure to conform to the sexual wisdom of control, fear, and distance, is a prophetic voice for churches stuck in their views of sexuality and passionate friendships.
Authentic, sexual wisdom is not about not rocking the boat, or finding wise once-and-for-all rules to keep men and women safe and distant. As Lilian Calles Barger observes, "the wisdom of God isn't a safe and comfortable wisdom." She adds, "Jesus was very good at overturning conventional 'safe' wisdom." In this sense, Poust challenges us to rethink stereotypical, entrenched views of male-female friendships in Christian leadership and community.
She tells several stories of close spiritual friendships between men and women in Catholic history as well as contemporary stories including her own friendships.
I highly recommend this book for its simplicity and yet great depth.