Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Holy Spirit disruptions: Unexpected friends

Lynne Baab • Friday September 3 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Unexpected friends

I am almost finished re-reading the alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton. Actually, when I got to “V is for Vengeance,” I realized I had missed it, so that book was a read, not a re-read. Grafton’s sleuth, Kinsey Millhone, has become a friend over the years as I have read the series several times. She’s not a close friend, evidenced by the fact that the last time I re-read the early books was about a decade ago, but I enjoy her quirks and the details she observes that I would miss.

For other books, the main character, or one of the supporting characters, feels like a good friend who I enjoy spending time with, so I re-read those books often. I always felt a bit secretive about this leisure time activity because it seemed weird. Then a few years ago I happened to read an 1870 biography of Jane Austen by her nephew J. E. Austen-Leigh. He writes about some of the favorite characters in the Jane Austen novels, “who have been admitted as familiar guests to the firesides of so many families, and are known there as individually and intimately as if they were living neighbours.” Anne Elliot of Persuasion is one of those “living neighbors” for me. I love to spend time with her. I’m proud to describe Anne Elliot that way, but a bit ashamed to admit that many of my beloved friends in books come from what I would describe as “beach fiction” – fun romps with romance or solving a mystery as their main endeavor. Not profound. Not great literature. Just stories with people I enjoy being with.

A few years ago I wrote about a friend who loves West Wing. She said, “Those people are like my friends. I love to play a DVD of the show before I go to bed at night to have a little time with those people.”

These thoughts about unexpected friends were triggered by a beautiful article, “Why trees are the friends we need right now.” The author, journalist Elizabeth Bernstein, describes being at summer camp as a child. She wrote to her father, saying that she felt lonely, and he suggested she spent time in the grove of trees by the lake. Referring to the sycamore trees in the grove, he said, “Go talk to them. They make good friends — and they keep your secrets!”

This morning over breakfast I was reading a magazine, “Birds and Blooms.” One writer reported that during the pandemic, the birds in her backyard taught her patience. Her words mirror John Stott’s beautiful book, The Birds our Teachers.

One of my favorite posts on this blog is about our white cat, Vanilla, who was an important friend to our older son. They were age mates, almost exactly the same age, and soul mates in a beautiful way. When she got skin cancer at 14, I thought his heart would break.

You may think it strange to view imaginary characters in books, movies and TV shows as friends. Here’s my response: God gave us our imaginations. God gave the writers of the books and movies their creativity. God uses all of the creativity of God’s creation to minister to us.

You may think it strange that trees and cats (and dogs for you dog-lovers) and orcas and horses and even mountains and beaches can be considered friends. God made them, and they speak of God to us. After I wrote the post on our cat Vanilla, a friend gave me a link to a song by Benjamin Britten called “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.” Some of the words go like this: “He is the servant of the living God . . . he worships in his way . . . for he knows that God is his savior, for God has blessed him with the variety of his movements.”

Perhaps you wonder why am I writing about these unusual friends in a series of blog posts called “Holy Spirit disruptions.” Some of us may feel a bit ashamed, as I did, at the sense of companionship and joy that we get from characters in books. God wants to disrupt that shame. God invites us to exult in the power of our imaginations, and to pray for right use of that human attribute that can be such a blessing and such a source of dysfunction as well.

Some of us may habitually put too much weight on our human friendships. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants to disrupt our too-intense dependency on the people around us by opening us to friendships with trees or birds, cats or dogs, or characters in books or TV series.

Some of us may need to take more initiative to nurture human friendships. The Holy Spirit may want to disrupt our too-intense dependency on TV series and books and pets, nudging us into more intentional relationships with people.

Listen. Listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you about your friendship in every sense of that word.

(Next week: detachment with love. Illustration by Dave Baab: tree in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Friendship is a topic that has interested me for a long time:

Next post »« Previous post