Last week I wrote about my mixed feelings for this past Monday’s beginning to deconfinement across France. Though Paris is still a “red zone” and thus our freedoms are more limited than other parts of France, it is still a milestone in many of our lives. While these things still remain in my mind I don’t want to focus so much on government policy, but instead on the relationships that can start to return to an air of normalcy as we are allowed to see each other face-to-face again. There is nothing magical about the government’s decision to ease confinement as far as the nature of COVID-19, and there is obviously still a great need for a continuation of social distancing, use of masks, etc. However, these new opportunities to see our friends and loved ones reminds me of the importance of what I call “sacred friendships” as a cornerstone to our emotional, and spiritual vitality, and in these socially distant times are more important than ever.
Different communities and people name these “sacred friendships” differently, some call them “holy friends”, others “best friends”, and still others “chosen family.” These can all be references to different types or relationships, but each of them carries an element of sacredness to them. Because these sacred friends are more than just people you enjoy hanging out with, but are the people in your life that carry your burdens and joys with you. They are the people who have an intimate look into your life. They are the people who can help you dream dreams you otherwise wouldn’t dream, who can call you out when you’re working against your best interests or the interests of others, and who just know how to make you laugh. These sacred friends don’t always live nearby, and I think COVID confinement has perhaps helped me to discover who these people are in my life and challenged me to maintain relationships that span space and time. And I would be willing to wager that it may have done a similar thing for many of you.
I have learned that many friendships, are more transient, and this is something I can come to expect and even enjoy because meeting new people is fun. However, sacred friends are people are not only nice to have in our lives, but I would argue are essential to our spiritual and emotional vitality. Victoria Atkinson White says it this way, “[Sacred] friends remind us, ‘Everything is not fine. You are not fine. Everyone is traumatized in this season, not in the same way, but definitely at the same time. It is OK not to be fine -- it is actually the new normal.’” She continues, “None of us can claim to know what we are doing. We are all being called upon to do things we have never done before, things we never imagined having to do. And yet we hold ourselves to unreasonably high standards and then berate ourselves for not being as shiny, savvy or smart as our neighbors. [Sacred] friends challenge the negative messages we tell ourselves, speaking words of truth, grace and peace.”
My hope is that each of us reading this either has people like this in their lives already, or if you don’t, that you will maybe try to identify the people who could operate this way for you (and you for them). And if you have these people or person, but have maybe gotten out of touch with them, reach out and rekindle that sacred relationship. We are all humans, and humans are social creatures, so even though we still need to socially distance doesn’t mean that we need to lose touch with those sacred friends. Sacred friends don’t have to look any particular way or be a certain type of person, but there does need to be an element of commitment that binds you together and allows you to hear things from them that are difficult, and allows you to trust them with the most vulnerable parts of who you are. Some call this “discipleship” others call it “intimacy”, but whatever it you call it, sacred friends can be those people who we most critically need in these uncertain times. Sacred friends can be “God with skin on” when we really need another person to be with us (even if it’s over Zoom, or from 2 meters away).
I know that some of you may be more or less able to do this, but if it is possible for you, take some time this week and go on a walk in nature with a sacred friend. And if your sacred friends don’t live near to you, maybe schedule a time to call them on the phone and both of you go on a walk where you are, but just be vulnerable with that person. Not only are our friendships sacred, but so is our relationship to the natural world, and if you can enjoy walking near trees or water, while you talk to your sacred friend it can be a really restorative for your soul and body.
This is a Sunday school lesson that one of my sacred friends, the Rev. Dr. Lindsey Jodrey that they originally prepared for Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey but have given me permission to share with you. They are talking about the story of Jesus, Martha, and Lazarus from John 11, and they finish with a set of resources about mindful self-compassion.
I hope that if Bible Study is something that interests you, you are either part of Pastors Jodi and Doug’s “A Major Word from the Minor Prophets” or if you’re a young adult you are participating in our study on the book of Mark! However, if you’re one of those people who just can’t get enough of learning interesting things about the Bible, I would encourage you to check out The Bible for Normal People, hosted by Dr. Pete Enns. Dr. Enns is a Harvard Divinity School graduate and is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in Philadelphia PA, however, don’t let those credentials intimidate you, because Dr. Enns has a tremendous gift for introducing lay audiences to the nuance and beauty of Christian scripture. He also regularly features really good guests, and they end up having great conversations. So if you’re a bible nerd or are looking for a new podcast to listen to on your walks or when in the kitchen, check out The Bible for Normal People!
P.S. The podcasts are not linear so just find a title that sounds interesting to you and give it a listen!
 White, Victoria Atkinson. “Victoria Atkinson White: When We Need Holy Friendships Most.” Victoria Atkinson White: When we need holy friendships most | Faith and Leadership, May 12, 2020. https://faithandleadership.com/victoria-atkinson-white-when-we-need-holy-friendships-most?fbclid=IwAR2T5HcNmnkqp7gBEVpG0G4vdiGQTi7AAvvdY8NKggV61GG8IvD7TEzj_YQ.