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Day 38: Surprised in Grace


For a long time, I thought this was the missing complement to formal communities, be they congregations or educational traditions or whatever… Institutions are necessary for organized civic life, and yet they also interrupt human connections with imposed norms, outside assumptions/judgments, and power dynamics (often run amuk). Returning to friendship seemed to be the obvious redress, to restore connectional values into dying institutions.

I’ve therefore read a lot about friendship over decades of teaching in higher theological education. Buddhist perspectives—a dangerous friend is the root spiritual teacher in relation to whom enlightenment will come. Christian perspectives—anam cara, soul friend, spiritual companion, covenantal companionship. Jewish perspectives—study pairs or partners, deepening piety in Hasidic devotion. All of which landed me (eventually) in circle-way gatherings, with an acoustics of intimacy and a relational ethos that resonated with friendship as antidote to institutional disconnectionalism, lost in formal roles and norms, losing more and more heart-capacity the longer one remains within them. A Companionable Way was my best shot at trying to compile this learning journey into an episodic, non-linear teaching tool for devotion at the center of friendship. A fierce heart commitment that has less and less reciprocity expected, more and more assurance of loving first, being loved. All of this distilled writing, musing, may very well be as true as I first supposed…

…except it must be paired no less with human finitude and a deep humility, recognizing we are less and less versed in friendship today, locally and globally. Or speaking just for myself, the longer I open into the pathways I’m on right now, the less and less I feel I know about friendship. Folks who I thought would be drawn to me, or me drawn to them, are not; those with whom I figured I’d not feel connected with, I do. Perhaps not in an expected or familiar way, but in a deep connectional flow all the same. So very curious for me…

I’m increasingly aware that as much as I have devoted my life to creating spaces where communities may be birthed (co-birthed), where relationships rooted in voice and integrity may blossom into life-giving friendships, I feel most connected when I seem to know the least, when I am able to anticipate the least.

This may very well be a white thing, or an academic-egghead thing, or simply a Hess proclivity for abstractions imagining safety or security are held within them. But as I relinquish this long-held sensibility of being good at friendship, leaning more into a curiosity and a deep remembering that I don’t know what I don’t know, new friends are coming into my life.

I celebrate the gifts of those I get to walk with today. I hold loosely who we are or will be for one another. And I smile at the joy of not having to know. Of getting to be surprised in grace.

Probably has something to do with presence, but I'm out of words. :):):)

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