I just finished reading Joan Chittister’s, The Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, which was part of my Mother’s Day gift this year.  In the introduction of the book, she addresses the question of “what friendship has to do with personal development and spiritual growth.”  Chittister writes that the long answer to that question

comes in the slowly dawning awareness that once we are loved we have an obligation to live as best we can.  Once we have discovered the love that doubles life but does not consume it, we must live so that the other, who walks by the light within us as well as the light within herself, may not proceed befuddled by our own failure to illuminate the way.  The love of a friend comes always with a lantern in hand. By love I am not talking about passion, though that will certainly, in one energizing sense or another, be a fortifying dimension of any deep and good relationship. By love I am talking about the process of melting into the life of another in ways that fuse our souls, open our hearts, and stretch our minds, and all the while claiming nothing in return.  Friendship is the process of opening ourselves to the care, to the wisdom of the other.  The love of friendship is the love that holds no secrets, has no unasked questions, no unspoken thoughts, no unanswered concerns.  Friendship extends us into places we have not gone before and cannot go alone. Friendship may be either ultimate or commonplace, but it is never without the gain of a little more self.

Later in the book, she talks about the intimacy of friendship, “the ability to know everything there is to know about a person, to celebrate their fortunes, to weather their straits, to chance their enemies, to accompany them in pain and to be faithful to the end, whatever its glory, whatever its grief,” the “inshakeable immersion in the life of the other to the peak of ecstasy, to the depths of hell.”

This seems to me a wonderful description of the intimacy of friendship.  Notwithstanding the title and focus of the book, this is not a gender-specific description and there are men as well as women in my life whose friendship has been invaluable to my personal development and spiritual growth.  And so this day I give thanks to the women and men who inspire me and help me live as best as I can.  Who help illuminate my way and who let me help illuminate theirs.  Whose lives have melted into my own.  Who extend me into places I haven’t gone before.  Who can be with me (and let me be with them) in the depths as well as the heights.  I thank them and I thank God for them.