Back in the sixties, I was a very lousy Girl Scout. In fact, I virtually flunked at being a Girl Scout. My uniform did not pass muster. I hated camping. I barely earned a badge.
But I do remember the song – the campfire song:
Make new friends and keep the old…
I remember a few names and faces lit by that firelight: Susan Sudero, Loretta Cybulski, Patty Sharlock, and the troop leader – Veronica’s mom.
Tuesday afternoons we’d gather in Mrs. Lockwood’s living room. We bonded munching graham crackers and braiding newspapers into “sit-upons.” I remember that Susan Sudero loved Spaghettio’s. I remember that Loretta Cybulski was super smart and that Patty Sharlock was super cool.
The four of us played kickball after school and stayed outside until the sun went down. And whether by luck or providence, I am not sure, these friendships made it all the way through grammar school.
So, maybe I did not flunk Girl Scouting after all!
Make new friends and keep the old…
In the seventies, my high school friends were pretty artsy-fartsy: Anne, Ricarda and Claire. We read “Siddharta” by Herman Hesse, hung out at the Potter’s House, watched foreign films and listened to folk music – Joni Mitchell being a favorite. I developed a taste for coffee and once or twice smoked something I shouldn’t have.😊
At the same time, I wooed the boy next door – my ex-husband William, who became the best friend I was married to for twenty-eight years. Two nerdy hippies, we loved to read, we loved the beach, and we loved our three children into adulthood: Zach, Colleen and Jacob, who I also count among my best of friends.
Close encounters of the friendly kind are incredibly dear.
And in the eighties, in my Montessori days, I met a soul friend named Nancy. She was so funny and down to earth. For lunch we would smuggle homemade sandwiches into the corner drug store, buy a coke and talk and talk. And for almost forty years, we have talked and talked some more.
In 1988, Princess Colleen met Bumble Bee Greta at a preschoolers’ party on All Hallows’ Eve. The princess and the bumble bee became fast friends. And so, did their moms. Terry and I fast-forwarded through marriage, children, and sadly divorce, too. Twenty-eight years of friendship, all tallied up.
And in September of ’91, lunch tabling at Virginia Seminary, this parochial schoolgirl met a southern belle. We were the unlikeliest of friends. But after more than a few Thursday evening get togethers after class and a few misadventures on the road, we christened ourselves Lucy and Ethel. Or was it, Thelma and Louise? No matter which, we rustled up a whole lot of trouble for nearly twenty-five years.
And in 1994, I met my colleague, Neal. Together, solving unholy mysteries of an X-File nature, this young curate and her rector (“a nineties kind of guy”) teamed up Scully and Mulder style. True believers both, we continue to believe that “The truth is out there.” Twenty-six years later, he is sure he found it. Twenty-six year later, I am looking for it still.
Which brings me into the twenty-first century and my friend Mical (which rhymes with decal.) Mical doesn’t believe in Hell and she loves to eat (a winning combination!). Under the guise of work, God brought us together on Virginia Seminary’s Holy Hill. So much more than work, we have shared our lives, lots of laughter and innumerable meals. Four years after leaving the library, I am so, so grateful that the laughter and the love go on.
I wish I could tell you that all these bonds remain strong, but some of my friendships have fallen by the wayside, through no one’s fault but my own. True friendships need tending, you know.
So how do you make new friends and keep the old?
“Alchemy is required, the magic of the Philosopher’s Stone put to work,” says the philosopher Theodore Zeldin. And the magic word is “curiosity.” Zeldin’s latest book, “The Hidden Pleasures of Life”, a reviewer describes as “a curious book about a curious man.” A man possessed of an insatiable curiosity to know as many “others” as he can. Zeldin’s book introduces twenty-eight.
“…not impersonally as falling under this or that system or category, or superficially. No, the point of living is to know the other properly… sharing our private thoughts and conversing on those things which shape our lives.”
“Such curiosity demands that we give up on the superficial frivolities that grease our everyday interactions and open instead the sacred chambers of our hearts and minds, displaying in Virginia Woolf’s words, ‘the tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them out would teach one everything.’”
Better than any priest, better than any sacramental confession, better even than any trip to a therapist – is that rare and wonderful conversation with a “particular friend.”
You lay your soul bare and there is no judgement, no reservation – only love. Over pie, over coffee, in a restaurant or over Zoom, two shared souls meet. Like David and Jonathan, you get to know one another almost biblically.
Seven centuries ago, St. Aelred of Riveaux describes it so:
“You and I are here, and I hope that Christ is between us as a third. Now no one is present to disturb our peace or to interrupt our friendly conversation. No voice, no noise invades our pleasant retreat. Yes, most beloved, open your heart now and pour whatever you please into the ears of a friend. Gratefully, let us welcome the peace, the time and the leisure.”
Befriending is a way for the Body of Christ to grow. A way to extend the connective tissue that binds us in love to one another. Paraphrasing Paul in Romans:
By the mercies of God, we present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… Not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds, to discern God’s will, to discern that which is good for God’s Body… Each according to the measure of faith that God has designed.
Teaching one another, speaking truth to one another, exhorting one another, ministering to one another, giving to one another. Laughing and crying with one another. Bottom line – just loving one another. That’s what God’s friends do.
As Christians, expanding this circle is an act of faith. The church is not a country club or a book group. Even in a pandemic, especially in a pandemic, we are never closed and always open – just differently. “Y’all come to the dance!” is our altar call.
“Dance,” Judith Jamison the legendary dancer says, “is bigger than your physical body. Think bigger than that. When you extend your arm, it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers, because you are dancing bigger than that; you’re a dancing spirit.”
Visualize, if you will, reaching out those arms to the new person in the back pew of the church. To the newcomers huddled up by themselves in the corner of the parish hall at coffee hour. To the familiar members you know and miss. To the folks you know only by sight but have not seen sitting in their usual places for a very long time.
And now in the pandemic, when we are all working and schooling and praying in virtual ways, visualize who else to you might reach out to. Who is new to you on the Zoom screen? Who might you know that is at sixes and sevens and does not know where to go? Who do you know who is isolated or alone? Who do you know is in need of a friend?
Cast your eyes across the dance floor. Get out of your comfort zone. Ask God to make you brave. Invite someone new to the dance.
Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.
Peace, my friends, hope to see you at Zoom Coffee Hour!
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog