Who doesn't yearn to know in their very marrow that God is their friend? Who doesn't want more peace? And who wouldn't like to handle life's difficulties and pain with equanimity?
In Christ, surely such impossible-sounding desires are possible, and in one of the most beautiful Gospel chapters, Jesus opens his heart to his disciples, telling them that he loves them, that they are his friends, and that he is always with them:
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you …. When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." (John 15:9-15, 26, NIV)
Jesus is still saying this to us today: "I have called you friends" (John 15:15). If we begin meditating on the awesome intimacy of Christ's friendship, we can set about discovering the truth of St. Augustine's words: "God is closer to your soul than you are yourself" ( Following Christ ).
Be Still and Know
Solitude and silence are ancient spiritual disciplines that help us nurture our friendship with God. Solitude comes from the Latin solitudo, from solus for "alone," and silence merely means shutting our mouths for a moment, which is always hard for this particular middle-aged Cuban woman, wife, mother, and professor to do.
In this context, Psalm 46:10 may be the most overlooked verse in the Bible: "Be still, and know that I am God." How would our world change if we all practiced what it teaches? The ancient Christian mystics teach us that—more importantly and closer to home—our lives are transformed when we are still and quiet regularly. In one sermon, the 13-century Benedictine nun Umiltà of Faenza says, "Those who want to be able to listen well to God's speaking must enclose themselves in great silence" ( A Little Daily Wisdom ).
Getting alone with God helps us listen to the rich, soul-making silence that is divine love.
Learn from the Ancients
In a slender 14th-century masterpiece on prayer, The Cloud of Unknowing , an anonymous English monk tells us that communing with God is easy—we only need a nakid entente ("a naked intent"). If we desire with all our heart to be close to God, that is enough, he says, and he encourages us to simply try sitting quietly before God: "Be bold" (Following Christ).
The 14th-century Christian mystic Catherine of Siena also knew the sustaining joys that come both from the solitude of her monastic cell and from the profound place of silence within her own soul:
"Sweet eternal will of God, you've taught us how to find you. If we asked our kind, loving Savior and most merciful Father: 'How can we find you?' God would tell us: 'If you want to find and experience the fruit of my will, always live in the cell of your soul.' Now the cell is a well of both earth and water. We can understand the earth to be our own poverty, when we recognize that of ourselves we're nothing. That's why we must admit our being comes to us from God. He is living water. Let us plunge into this well!"
St. Augustine reminds us, too, that we must get alone with God daily:
"If you could calm your body's loud demands—if you could blind your point of view; if you could silence noise and dreams and language and symbols and everything that does not last forever—if your soul could be quiet with itself; if you could relinquish analysis—if you could lose your anxious self-consciousness; if you could listen only to your Maker speak, not through anything but himself: then we would hear Being, the unmoving Wisdom. And if we could sustain this not-thinking for any length of time, it would swallow us up into unspeakable delights of the soul, and we would know what Jesus meant when he told the parable of the talents, giving this invitation: 'Enter into the joy of your master' (Matthew 25:23)." (Following Christ)
In The Herald of Divine Love , the 13th-century nun Gertrude the Great shows us how simple it is to be alone with God and what an antidote it is to the human reality of acute loneliness:
"One day not long after Easter I went to the garden before Prime and sat down beside the pond. I began thinking what a pleasant place it was. The clear water and streams, the fresh spring green of the trees, the birds flying here and there so happily, especially the doves, were all lovely to consider. Most of all, I loved the quiet, hidden tranquility of this secluded place. I asked myself what else I needed to complete my joy there in such an excellent spot, and I realized I needed a friend. I needed someone intimate, sweet, wise, and fun to share my solitude. Then you, God, lead me in meditation back to yourself, the source of unimaginable joy. You showed me that if by always praising you I poured back like water the streams of grace I'd received from you; and if, like a tree, I covered myself in the leaves and blooms of good works; and if, like the doves, I spurned earth and soared towards you, then my heart could accommodate you, and every joy would be mine, with nothing lacking. Throughout the day I thought on these images." (A Little Daily Wisdom)
In his Confessions , St. Augustine reminds us that getting still before God is a necessity and a requirement of the true Christian disciple, for it is where our hungry, hurting souls find their deepest healing and greatest nourishment:
"I was commanded to practice being still before God, and with his help, I did. I entered the dim recesses of my being and saw there, with my sober eye, above my turbulent self, the unchanging Light. This Light was not above my soul as oil floats above water or as heaven is found above the earth. This Light was above my soul because it is the Light who made me. If you know the Truth, you know this eternal Light, who is Love. Then a voice on high said to me, "Be mature, and feed on me. When you nourish yourself with me, you will not transform me the way you transform your ordinary food into your body when you eat. Feast on me, and you are transformed into me." (Following Christ)
So in taking time to be alone with Christ, I can know in my inmost being that God is my friend. And who doesn't want that?
Carmen Acevedo Butcher is associate professor of English and scholar-in-residence at Shorter College. She is author of numerous books including A Little Daily Wisdom: Christian Women Mystics and Following Christ: A Lenten Reader to Stretch Your Soul (both Paraclete Press). www.CarmenButcher.com.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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