During a recent online zoom conversation with a dear contemplative friend, we fell into a reverie-soaked reflective mood about the last few months and what our contact has potentially meant to each other. Neither of us could remember the details of our chats so much as the richness of cultivating space and an emotional depth that invited us to verbalise our respective struggles at this time. We heard each other, often in pregnant silence, at a time of difficulty, and without feeling the need to change anything. We contemplated life together.
We find in our friendships, especially those which hold deliberate space for spiritual depth and authenticity, that new terrain can be discovered, worked over and nurtured. A shared bearing witness to the mysterious heart of things invites a dialogue that spans what Thomas Merton described as the ‘pre-verbal, verbal and post-verbal’ domains of relating.
The book of Sirach (6:36), in the Orthodox Bible, counsels that one ‘should seek a person of understanding, cleave to a person that is wise, then go to that person who is wise, letting one’s feet wear away the steps of their door.’ I like that image of worn steps.
Spiritual friendship is a practice that helps us to focus our attention on the wisdom currents within and between us. It’s tough otherwise, even for this seasoned introvert. A friendship that can hold a dedicated and loving field of spiritual curiosity is an invaluable complement to the inner work of solitude.
A secure silence develops within spiritual friendship, that carries no latent expectations for verbal exchange or convention, instead providing an opportunity to dwell wordlessly in human presence. This silence might ultimately be a vehicle to safely extend feeling beyond the relationship itself.
A spiritual friend makes no attempt to eradicate the reactive fear we might express when feeling low or in a disorienting darkness about our life. It is often enough within a deep friendship that has weathered the storms of emotional life, to relate existentially or archetypally to what is going on and to suffer life’s vicissitudes together. No solutions offered or needed. Just worn steps.
Vulnerability and uncertainty occurs naturally in some seasons of life or when certain events unfold. In a secure and trustworthy space between friends, fear might just run its natural course. We are both changed for the experience. We grow. And so when we return to our practice in solitude, we are renewed and resourced for the long hours of personal silence.