A Circle of Friends ~ Rev. Melanie Eyre

A Circle of Friends ~ Rev. Melanie Eyre

Talk starts at 20:40
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A revised transcript of this talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings and songs are also included.


Opening prayer:

This day is a new beginning ~ a fresh start.
May I walk a path of love for all whom I encounter
May I walk a path of gratitude for all I experience.
At the end of the day, may I have been a blessing for all the families of the world.

~Ahalya Baguio, adapted by Rev. Melanie Eyre

Community prayer:

A Prayer for wisdom and courage, from the Jewish tradition:

“We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to banish war,
For you have filled the world with paths to peace,
If only we would take them.

We cannot merely pray for prejudice to cease,
For we might see the good in all
That lies right before our eyes,
If only we would use them.

We cannot merely pray to You to end starvation:
For there is food enough for all,
If only we would share it.

We cannot merely pray to You:  ‘Root out despair,’
For the spark of hope already waits in the human heart
For us to fan it into flame.

We must ask of You, O God,
That you take the task You have given us.
We cannot shirk.  We cannot flee away,
Avoiding our sacred obligation forever.

Therefore we pray, O God,
For wisdom and will,
For courage to do and to become,
Not merely to gaze with helpless yearning
As though we had no strength.
So that our land, our world, may be safe,
And our lives truly be blessed.”


“A Circle of Friends” by Rev. Melanie Eyre

Aug. 30, 2020

Welcome. Today we’re wrapping up our series on building our spiritual toolkit, and I’d like to talk about one powerful tool that we haven’t explored this month. I’d like to focus on relationship – specifically, how the strength of relationship, a circle of friends, helps us grow and thrive, leads us into experience of the holy.

Christian mystic Thomas Merton wrote,

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another.” 

It is our nature to reach out, to join, to form relationships, to act in relationship and in community. One of the worst experiences you can inflict on anyone is to put him or her in isolation, to remove the possibility of contact with another. We are wired to be in relationship.

In this time of isolation, I think we’re finding out how true that is. We miss seeing each other. We miss being in community. We miss being together, with all the energy that flows when we are. 

We often talk about how we grow in community—as we partner each other on our independent journeys, share awarenesses, celebrate growth—and that is true. But the aspect I’d like to take a look at today is how much our awakening to the holy is made possible because we can be in relationship, because we are intimately connected with another human soul, and how our full awakening might not happen without it.

In other words, I am suggesting that when you put together your spiritual toolkit, you add meaningful friendships to it, not just supportive and loving community, but individuals with whom you share real friendship.

So why do I say that? We often look upon our spiritual growth as a solitary endeavor, or, as the philosopher Plotinus put it, ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’.

That may be true; we are seeking union with the divine. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a path we walk by ourselves.

Our ability to connect, to be our true and honest self with another, to see and be seen, is one of the fundamental challenges of our spiritual journey. It’s also a profound and powerful gift we give and receive. I have heard it said that one definition of spirituality is “the art of making connections.” Our journey is stronger, truer, and more joyful when we build and maintain these connections with others who see us and know us, and love us through all of it. Those people we call our friends.

These deep friendships give us opportunities, every day, to build those qualities that reflect the best in us, and that make our world a kinder and better place—compassion, forgiveness, love.  Our friends teach us, open us to the wider world, tell us when we fall short, and celebrate us always.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote,

“Our relations with each other are like a stone arch, which would collapse if the stones did not mutually support each other, and which is upheld in this very way.”

Isn’t that a wonderful image? The arch is strong until you remove one stone. Each is necessary, as necessary as any other one. Our friends are the stones in our arch, holding us up and keeping us strong.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about these connections that bind us. He wrote,

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” 

He spoke of the Beloved community—community representing the love of God in lived reality, community reflecting the Divine found and experienced in relationship.

What is he talking about? I think he’s targeting the truth that relationship changes each one of us; that it advances the flow of the holy in our own lives. God is found in our very connections, in the flow between and among us.

I’ve spoken before about theologian Martin Buber, the author of the classic “I and Thou”.

The book came about after Buber spent the early years of his adult life believing that religious ecstasy was the road to God—that divinity was found in those exceptional, mystical and ecstatic experiences which exist apart from everyday life. The flight of the alone, to the alone. Then, in 1914, he experienced what he called a “conversion.”

The event was simple enough. A young man came to speak with Buber. Buber treated him courteously but was not fully present, as he had spent the morning in a state of what he termed “religious enthusiasm.” Buber wrote that he answered the young man’s questions but was not “there in spirit” for him. Buber later found out that the young man had been having a genuine spiritual crisis and needed to have the genuine, deep dialogue Buber did not offer him. Buber later wrote that the young man died in World War One out of “a despair which did not oppose his own death.”   

As a result of this experience, Buber abandoned the life of religious ecstasy (or, as he wrote, it “has given me up.”)  He wrote, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken.”  What he meant is that he realized that the true experience of God is in the interaction of human souls—in relationship.  As he wrote, “All real living is meeting.”

Don’t we know this to be true? Think of your own life, of the joy your own deep connections bring you. Those close to us give us understanding, the permission to love and be loved, the freedom to make mistakes and learn, fall and get up. We come alive in these relationships. Our true friends are, as Wayne Muller puts it, strong companions and clear mirrors who tell us with compassion how we are doing, when we are moving ahead, when we are falling short. Where else can we learn these things?

In the Christian mystical tradition, the notion of relationship is grounded in the very image of God. For many years, I did not resonate at all with the concept of the Trinity. It made little sense and seemed, at worst, an artificial construct. In recent years, I’ve been exposed to different ideas about it, and focusing on the idea of relationship. Richard Rohr, the contemporary Catholic theologian and author, teaches that the very notion of God is grounded in dynamic relationship, in flow and in creation. He calls God, as expressed through the Christian trinity, a circle dance of mutuality and communion, of pouring out and receiving love in a never-ending flow.

The idea that God is three persons and ultimately one, or one expressing as three, illustrates the fundamental nature of relationship in the flow of creation. It says that the very essence of creation is relationship.

Isn’t this what we are saying when we say that God is love? Love is about expression, flow, gifting and receiving. Love exists in relationship.

This is the reason, or one powerful reason, that we seek relationship in our spiritual walk. In a way that is difficult to articulate, the very relationship itself is a channel for the holy that is available no other way. We let ourselves be vulnerable, and we open ourselves to the possibility of change.

There is a concept arising from Celtic spirituality, and made more popular in recent years, of what’s called the soul friend, or anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend.

So what is a soul friend? It’s really what it sounds like – someone with whom you can share your soul, without fear or judgment, pretension or dodge.  Richard Rohr puts it this way:

“If you do not have someone to guide you, to hold onto you during the times of not knowing, you will normally stay at your present level of growth. Seek out a sacred companion you can trust to be honest and present to your journey, who can reflect back to you God’s presence in your life and world.”

I think we’ve all had moments when we have called upon such friends. Our lives are so much richer when such companionship is not the exception, but a necessary part of our spiritual journey.

Creation of this relationship requires us to put the cowboy mentality aside. We put so much stock in being independent, being able to handle it all ourselves. Reaching out is a sign of weakness, of failure. Too often we wait until we are so low we have no option. We sell ourselves and our friends short.

In our spiritual walk, sharing and connecting is basic. What Father Rohr is suggesting is that we need each other to move on to the next level. We cannot mirror back to ourselves; we often cannot see ourselves accurately. It’s so easy to make excuses to ourselves, let ourselves off the hook, say we’ll look at that later. Your soul friend pulls you back, reminds you of what is true, helps you get back up when you fall, celebrates you when you shine.

What a gift we can give, and receive.

Irish poet John O’Donohue writes:

“In everone’s life, there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall way, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home.”

He writes that the anam cara, the soul friend, is God’s gift. In this communion of souls, trust and openness flourish, and as a result so do we.  

It’s not always easy, especially in a world in which it’s more difficult to make and keep real friendships. We are so busy, we are so cautious, we worry about how we’re perceived. All that has to go! Real friendship takes time, vulnerability, and trust. Scary stuff, but how much do we gain when we permit others in, and let ourselves be seen and known?

In the Buddhist tradition, we see the concept of soul friend expressed as the Kalyani-Mitra, or “noble friend.” In much the same way as the anam cara, the noble friend holds you to that higher standard, helps you to show up as your highest and best self. No dodges, excuses, or pretension. As Wayne Muller said, ‘strong companions and clear mirrors.’

These are joyful relationships, and show up in unexpected places and times. You can think of your own life, and the value your friends have added to it. Not all the folks you count as acquaintances, but those with whom you have built deep and abiding friendships. Do you think of them as soul friends? Probably not, but if you think about it some may have been. As friendships grow over the years, pretensions fall. Your real friends are true mirrors, making you look whether you want to or not.

I so admire people who maintain strong friendships with people they’ve known for decades – my sister’s best friend is someone she went to kindergarten with. Think about such people in your own life. What have they shared over the years, and how have they grown? What a gift, and what a tribute to dedication they have shown in maintaining those ties. Their lives are so much richer because of the deep friendship they have maintained.

Does your soul friend have to be one person? I don’t think so – I sometimes think the anam cara is more a type of relationship than a singular person, although it can be that. In my life, different people have stepped in and out of my life as soul friends at different times. Maybe in your life you have found that to be true as well. Or maybe not – maybe you have one person who without a moment’s hesitation you identify as your soul friend. There’s no one size fits all.

The fact that we’re more isolated in this time of Covid doesn’t change our need for friends. Just the reverse, it has surely highlighted how much we need them, and how difficult loneliness can be. When we’re physically isolated it’s more challenging to maintain our friendships, but we can do it if we get more creative. On Wednesday, I’d love to hear your thoughts about how we maintain our deep connections, and make new ones, in this unusual and challenging time.  

Aristotle identified friendship as the art of holding up a mirror to each other’s souls. So true and so essential.

Let’s celebrate the value of these deep relationships and commit to cultivating them as an integral part of your spiritual journey, not just a ‘nice to have’. What better gift can we give each other, as we travel together to find and experience the holy?


My Life Is My Prayer

Written by Asha Lightbearer

Thank You for Being a Friend (Theme from “The Golden Girls”)

Written by Andrew Gold

This service aired on August 30, 2020.

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