Phone a Friend

By Andy Stanton-Henry

Friendly Reminder: A Bi-Weekly Reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

One of my spiritual heroes is Thomas Merton. His writing and contemplative witness have shaped my life in many ways. One of the interesting parts of Merton’s biography is that he intersected with Quakers and Quakerism at several points. Many don’t know that his mother attended a Quaker meeting. While Merton’s later relationship with Quakers was more positive and productive, earlier in his spiritual pilgrimage he wasn’t very inspired by us.

In his spiritual autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, Merton recounts a visit to an unprogrammed Quaker meeting (I believe in New York). He appreciated the prayerful silence but was unimpressed by what he considered a shallow expression of contemplation. The only ministry shared was a woman talking about her vacation to Switzerland. He also read some reflections from William Penn and judged them “about as supernatural as a Montgomery Ward catalogue.” Ouch!

He concluded his exploration of Quakerism by noticing a couple general virtues and acknowledging that God could work among us, but ultimately determined there wasn’t enough supernatural substance: “Yet I cannot see that they will ever be anything more than what they claim to be–a ‘Society of Friends.’”

Quite the critic, that Merton. Though many of us have probably thought something similar in a committee meeting or particularly un-gathered time of worship. Nevertheless, there are worse things in the world than being a “Society of Friends,” even if the “F” is lower-case. In fact, part of being capital-F Friends includes being lower-case “f” friends.

Spiritual community at its best makes us F/friends.

I’m concerned that many of us are trying to be Friends without friends. And it’s not working. In order to have spiritual depth and prophetic power, we need the care, accountability, and grounding of authentic friendship. We need people who really know us, apart from our professional masks. We need people who have loved us for a long time, through seasons of success and seasons of screw-up. We need people who are spiritual companions. We need soul friends.

Emerson said the two essential elements of friendship are truth and tenderness. Most of us could use a lot more truth and tenderness in our life and leadership.

Who are your friends?

How are they doing?

Do they know how you are doing?

I’m wondering if some of us need to “phone a friend” in the next week or two. Maybe you need to talk to someone about a struggle in your life, or you just feel isolated and need to spend some time with a friend.

Or maybe you need to “phone a friend” in order to check in on them. Maybe they are feeling lonely or distressed or angry and need your presence. Or at least, to hear your voice and know that they are not forgotten.

So, in the words of the classic film: “Who you gonna call?”