In my last post, I discussed the concept of friendship existing as an exchange of values between persons, and how this relationship has the potential of shedding light on the world. If this is the climax of friendship, what is the starting point?
Last week, I found myself sitting with some friends and a philosophy professor on campus. We were discussing The Art of Living by Dietrich von Hildebrand. We began by talking about reverence and its ability to move us beyond ourselves to encounter others. In Hildebrand’s description, the reverent man “...does not fill the world with his own ego, but leaves to being the space which it needs in order to unfold itself” (7). We move from imposing ourselves on the world to opening ourselves. In this act, we trust that creation is good. We discover that it is made to help us transcend ourselves. Recollection is the predisposition to reverence. It can be as simple as a breath and moment of silence before I make a phone call. It opens us up to confrontation with being, in which “the reverent man remains silent in order to give it an opportunity to speak” (7).
I recently encountered this reverence when I asked a faculty member to write a recommendation for me. I went into his office stumbling for words and with the form unprepared. I was struck by his reverence towards me even amidst these little inconveniences and my obvious embarrassment in my lack of perfection. His reverence struck me, and I slowly found the loud noise within me quieting down and the embarrassment fading. He kept a distance from me, allowing me to unfold myself. He did not draw close and question why I was unprepared with my form or nervous to ask him. He waited to hear my question, agreeing to fill out the recommendation, and attending to my needs with encouragement and direction.
Giving Up StereotypesReverence seems to imply a silence before the gift and mystery of the other. The person is a gift because he is given to us by Another. He is a mystery because he is made by Another. This is contrasted with the temptation to stereotype a person. We’ve all had the experience of thinking “I have this person all figured out”. Sometimes this is a proud reaction to anticipating a friend’s need, and other times it is a subconscious assumption because we have simply taken the other for granted. We have learned some things about her, lived with her for a while, or have been hurt by her, and so we say, “I have this person figured out”. It is as if this person is put into a file in our minds and hearts with other things that we have fully discovered. Once in this file, the mystery of the other is gone, and we cannot encounter anything new in her. Hildebrand describes the irreverent man as, “a type of man who approaches everything with a presumptuous, sham superiority, and never makes any effort to understand a thing from within” (5). With this disposition we find ourselves lonely. We all want a friend who seeks to understand us from within, as far as possible given the nature of the relationship. Recollection provides the space for this understanding to take place.
Reverence Is Open To NewnessHuman persons will always continue to be persons, but they are also always new. We experience this newness in a person especially when we encounter her in an unusual context or after a big life event such as marriage, the death of a loved one, or getting a new job. In these circumstances, there is usually a moment of frustration. The friend is not who she once was to us. We feel as though we lost someone, or maybe that we lost a part of ourselves that we had discovered in our relationship with this person. There is a moment of suffering, but this moment holds everything we need to lead us back to reverence. In the end we discover that we love the friend with greater purity of heart.
It seems that reverence is a particular challenge in the relationships between young adults and our parents. The relationship is new, and we are challenged by the reality of our parent’s lives and our own. Hildebrand’s description of reverence gives us the language to understand how to love in this new relationship. I bring up this type relationship because I see it as a type of friendship. The young adult was once a child, but now enters into a reciprocal adult relationship. It is still distinct from other friendships, but nevertheless it seems to fit into this category.
Once, on a run with my mom, I encountered this reverence towards her within myself. Ordinarily, I struggle to keep this inner silence in our conversations. My ego takes up the space within myself and I fail to receive the my mom as she is. This time, however, I remained open to her as another person who, too, needs space to unfold herself before another. I listened and sought to understand through my experience. I remained silent and open to her. My mom who I normally look at through the lens of my own ego, I saw in a new and beautiful light. Reverence gave me the freedom to encounter who my mom really is.
This experience of reverence was made possible because I had first opened myself to others and experienced their reverence toward me. A good friend, a good coach, and a good mentor. I know I have been trying to describe reverence as the beginning of friendship, but it seems that even before being reverent toward others, we have to experience the reverence of another. For children this is passive. They simply are and reverence is readily given. For adults, this is often not the case. Reverence is often not given in the places we most often find ourselves: at school, at work, and at the grocery store. Hope is not lost. Reverence can also be found through active receptivity. Instead of depending upon a culture that can't support us in the reverence we need, we can seek it out ourselves. We find someone wiser and kind who delights in bestowing reverence. We humbly open ourselves up to another and we learn the art of reverence by receiving it. “We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.
Reverence Is Possible For AllHildebrand says, “How could one really love another person, how could he make sacrifices for him if he sensed nothing of the preciousness and plentitude which is potentially enclosed in a man’s soul, if he had no reverence for this being?” (9). Friendships, like persons themselves, are ever new. Reverence is home base. As circumstances change and new challenges arise we can turn back to reverence. It gives us the freedom to look upon the other and encounter their value. As we foster inner silence and give the other space to unfold herself, we can sense her “preciousness and plentitude”. Only with reverence is love and sacrifice possible. It is our foundation for friendship.