At the end of a long and very good day at the annual retreat I found myself sitting in the moonlight of a nearly full moon, on a field, at a picnic table with four friends near midnight. They are new friends as are so many here in Denver, and yet we were talking as if we had known each other for all eternity. There were long, comfortable silences in which the stars held a finger to our lips so that the Holy Spirit could re-arrange interior furniture recovered during our meditations. Retreats are good for that heavy lifting and redesign of the house with many rooms. We had spent the day as a parish discussing the nature, spirituality and practical theology of friendship. We talked with each other, unfettered by incoming emails and the lash of the cell phone.
At that picnic table my body was weak. I had worked hard with satisfying results but my muscles ached and the night air was unforgiving of a Thai shirt designed for different climates. I wanted to go to bed but more wanted to stay up – it reminded me of being five and it occurred to me that the tension between human weakness of body and the spiritual longing to connect with life around us never leaves us and must be very pregnant at death. “Go to bed dear, you are falling a sleep!” my mother would say. “I am not tired. Five more minutes?” I would respond with lids half closed. My friend’s dad recently died. You could see this love of life in his cancer-laden eyes. The twinkle never leaves us. It is merely obscured by pain.
As my new friends and I talked about God and inner city decay, poetry and music, art and despair, church hierarchy and hope for a new way forward, skin and frailty, beauty and poetry; I could sense, in the inky darkness of a mountain camp that this is where my soul is to be next formed – by these new friends, in this new place. What does it mean to a church with Bishops and Archbishops that Jesus called us friends? When will that divine, musical high-note shatter our crystal cages?
When asked by one person over coffee what I wanted on my tombstone I was immediately aware that my response needed no thought. I knew exactly what I want said of me. It is this: “He was a good, kind friend; and with those who were able to respond, he made a good life.” That is more than enough for me.