Does the decay of belief among educated people in the West precede the decay of language used to define and explore belief, or do we find the fire of belief fading in us only because the word are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn?
We need a poetics of belief, a language capacious enough to include a mystery that, ultimately, defeats it.
--Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
All my dearest friends, I think, have a list of books they are constantly reading. There is a list of "Things To-Read" that seems to increase exponentially with age. It gets longer as the years get shorter.
One factor in our ever-increasing lists is, of course, one another, who also serve as an impediment to reaching the end of our lists. As one person discovers an author, reads a new book, obsesses over a series, they quickly share it with the others. As this new world opens up for them, they rush to share it with each one of us.
They encourage us, incite us, cajole us, and sometimes force us (sending the book you've repeatedly told them to read as a Christmas or birthday present is always a good move), to read these books. They reference this new touchstone of knowledge constantly, they quote from it, they sing its praises. Until, finally, we read it too. And we fall in love (or not) with this new vision.
Together, we weave a world of shared words. We mold a common mental universe. Our conversation expounds upon itself, springing from this rich wealth of riches we have discovered with one another.
Our communication is livened by this shared world of mutual touchstones. And our communication deepens the communion.
And language, that hackneyed, broken vehicle of communion, redeemed, runs smoothly, like a miracle. It works as it was meant to do: the words serving as catalysts for deeper understanding darting between the speakers. The books on our list bridge between our broken worlds, and create a shared cosmos of understanding.
We have created something all together, we are, in fact, still creating it and always will be, the threads of understanding working themselves together, multiplying until they have woven something adamant and audacious: a new cosmos we exist within, together.
Perhaps this is why so many of my friendships have become retreats: they are, right now, not my daily companions on my journey. They are not the characters who populate each daily adventure. They are those who I retreat to; to reflect on the work that I am doing, on the person I am becoming, of the love I am growing into, they are those that I run to when the daily grind has ground me.
But that is not where they should stay.
The world that we've woven is constantly expanding, as new figures arrive in it. An ever expanding network of ideas, novel literature, and new humans with fresh ideas and new threads to contribute, this sub-cosmos pulls into it each person we encounter and befriend.
This universe of shared understanding is constantly expanding, modified and edited by our new companions. As friendships blossom--daily friendships, the companions, compatriots, and fellow sojourners--the friendships you form with fellow travelers, wearing down the same paths as yourself, so too new corners of this fabric blossom with new life.
Friendship is a wild grace. It sprouts up in dark corners, and flourishes in desert. It offers sweet encouragement and daily challenge.
Friendship is a wild grace, because it offers no relief from the Other. It is encountering a human person head-on. It is a brutal awakening to the world outside your own. But the grace of relationship is the one that saves us; for it breaks down the walls around ourselves. It knocks our pride flat out on its back, as we stand trembling in awe of the other and shaking in the frail shoes of our naked vulnerability.
But once we are finally vulnerable, we can begin to commune; we can communicate with others, we can achieve that union we were made for, that we struggle so childlike to achieve.
The words from our books ameliorate our sad attempts at voicing our love for one another, at voicing our quiet brokenness that calls out for companion.
We read. We write. We weave together a quiet bower of friendship in the vast, bent universe.