Friendship goes hand-in-hand with love and romance on Valentine’s Day, a secular holiday with religious roots in the life of the 3rd century St. Valentine. This week’s clergy discuss friendship’s true gifts, which are more meaningful and lasting than bouquets and social media greetings.
The Rev. Jeffrey D. Prey
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay
Friendship is a gift of God that reminds us we are not alone, and that we were never intended to live our lives apart from others. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes speaks to this. “There was a man all alone . . .” who found neither contentment nor joy in his wealth — it was all meaningless, given that there was no one with whom to share it. “Two are better than one,” he continues. “If one falls down, his friend can help him up . . . though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-12) The spiritual benefits of friendship that we enjoy for ourselves are more easily enumerated than are the benefits that accrue when we give ourselves away in friendship. But I suggest it is these that are the more impactful. One of the more scandalous aspects of Jesus’ ministry can be found in his opponents’ accusation that he was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19) Those who are the outcasts of society find that friendship does not come easily. It is here that we would do well to remember that “spiritual benefits” are not to be collected by and for ourselves, but are rather to be given away. On Valentine’s Day, which is also Ash Wednesday — the start of the season of Lent — we would be more richly blessed if our first thought was to what we could give, instead of what we can get.
Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf
Port Jewish Center, Port Washington
In the ancient Jewish text The Ethics of Our Ancestors, we learn: “Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.” (Pirkei Avot 1:6) When we are open to learning from others, when we allow ourselves to engage in conversations in which curiosity and honesty are valued, we create the potential for the kind of friendships that can be transformative. But it is not always easy to allow our friends to be our teachers. In fact, lately, I have found that when we have profound differences of opinion with a friend, we are more likely to turn away from having a difficult conversation with him or her, than to make her feel even temporarily uncomfortable. Or, in today’s political climate, we may not turn away, but rather dig in to our positions and not really listen to the ideas, feelings or beliefs of anyone who disagrees with us. Jewish tradition pushes us to do the opposite, to engage in these conversations, no matter how disagreeable they are. Through these open discussions, in which all opinions are welcome, through which we are pushed to consider our own ideals even more intensely, they share with us honesty and compassion. That’s what our friends do for us when we are open to learning from them. They hold a mirror up to us. They show us new perspectives we might not have considered before. They give us the foundation we need to find our balance when facing the highs and lows of life. And because of these kinds of friendships, we can become the best version of ourselves.
Board of directors, Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville
A friendship is based on many fundamental things. Trust, loyalty, support and companionship are among the basic requirements toward gaining the honor of being called “a friend.” We laugh and cry with our friends, entertain each other with “inside” jokes and so forth. We may have a best friend or two, people with whom we spend the majority of our free time, share our hopes and dreams and go through the trials and tribulations of life. Spiritual friendship exists between two souls whose paths cross not only for the spiritual growth of each, but for that of consciousness as a whole. Spiritual friends have an earthly connection based on the common goal toward enlightenment. They gather to “recharge” their spiritual batteries, to focus on the spirit rather than the consciousness of human existence and the trials of this life. They safeguard one another against the distraction of earthly problems and remind each other that this life is a small part of total existence and to maintain their composure and listen to their spirit for answers. According to the wisdom of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta (the most sacred treatise in Hinduism) verses 13 and 15 of Chapter XII, a spiritual friend must sustain these qualities: “No ill will to any being, friendly and compassionate, free from egoism and attachment, even minded, forgiving, does not get agitated by others and does not agitate others, free from envy, fear and anxiety.” A spiritual friendship is a divine union between two spirits who encourage and promote the uplifting of spirituality. A man who has a spiritual friend must be spiritual himself. A spiritual friend keeps confidence. A spiritual friend celebrates rather than compares him or herself with you, and makes you feel like a better person each time you are together.