Radical Friendship

Call me a sappy romantic, but I love the idea of falling in love. Socially conditioned to identify with Disney princesses, I have always been an avid fan of romantic comedies and over-the-top proposals. I am truly a sucker for a happy ending. So it was no surprise that when I came across Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s “Fall in Love” prayer a few years ago, I was ready to tape it all over my bedpost, mirror, Facebook status, and mortar board. Not only does the prayer capture the mystical romanticism of God, but it also has an expressive poeticism to it. As a writer and poet myself, I’ve always felt this prayer speaks to the sentimental and amorous ideas I associate with the phrase “God in all things”. The prayer/poem reads: 

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ

I am unashamed to share that I flaunted the final two lines around as my own personal mantra for many years. In times of uncertainty and transition, I clung to these lines as a navigational discernment tool: if I love something, the right decision and actions will follow. However, with the Ignatian education I’ve been fortunate enough to receive, I’ve recently started to re-examine what Arrupe actually meant by love

When he writes “falling in Love”, especially with a capital “L”, I am certain he meant a love that reaches beyond eros, or romantic love. What Arrupe is referring to is agape. According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, agape is defined as “the habit of the heart giving rise to forgiveness and compassion which leads to unity, peace and joy within the human community.” They describe agape as possessing three components: “instinctual love”, philia (friendship love), and eros. The more I revisit this prayer over the course of my rising adulthood, the more complex this expression of love becomes. As a 20-something who is constantly moving, transitioning, and navigating changing relationships, I now read this prayer and wrestle with the significance of philia in my life.

To me, the Ignatian notion of philia expresses what I consider “radical friendship.” It’s a phrase I have mulled over quite a lot. Many of my friends could attest to my regular soapbox sessions on building and sustaining intentional friendships. When I think about discerning the next choices of my life, my reflections on this prayer lead me to think through my passionate, radical friendships.  

I find both words to be compelling. Radical, meaning out of the ordinary, outstanding, or extreme, and friendship, meaning a relationship between two people who are simply attracted to one another. When you consider both of these words together, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. At least, it doesn’t make sense in the cultural context we live in. 

As I creep into the age of marriages and partnerships, I have often felt hurt by friendships that have come and gone due to the religious and cultural conditioning of eros over philia. I realize that partnership is much more complex and intricate than this: I am aware that, especially in the Catholic tradition, a “man” must leave his family for his spouse. But I often feel that the kind of love Arrupe prays for is equally as important in considering Catholic relationship. Friendships are the backbone of community building and connection. They offer compassion, comfort, stability, reliability, and resourcefulness. The more I search for “God in all things”, the more I find that it is my friends — my chosen family — that seize my imagination, break my heart, and amaze me with joy and gratitude. The older I get, the more passionate and, dare I say, romantic, my friendships have become. In an Ignatian sense, I find that I am constantly falling in agape with my closest friends. 

My proposal is that radical friendship should hardly be radical. On the spectrum of relationships, friendship is one of the most consistent bonds we humans can cultivate. Philia gets at the essence of intentional community and Ignatian love. As I continue to challenge cultural norms and Catholic doctrine alike, I often find that Arrupe’s “Fall in Love” helps me navigate the relationships in my life as pure reflections of God and God’s love. I have fallen in love with many of my friends, and while this can sometimes feel counter-cultural, I rely on Arrupe’s romantic expression to assure me that friendship is not only sacred, but the true essence and image of God. 

Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash

About Emily

Emily Win (she/her/hers) — Regular Contributor, Editor — She is currently earning her MA in Creative Writing and Critical Life from the University of Leeds in Leeds, England, but she embraces Toledo, Ohio as her hometown. Her passion for faith and justice led her to Saint Louis University, where she continued to explore issues of poverty and homelessness through tutoring, mentoring, companionship, and outreach. During her year as a Case Manager at a teen crisis shelter she learned that she loves working with teenagers and hopes to continue this work in some capacity in the future. Emily’s personal and professional interests exist in the intersection of writing, literature, and activism, specifically in regards to sexuality and gender. She is currently working on a collection of poetry/creative non-fiction that exposes, complicates, and affirms the relationship between womanhood, queerness, and Christianity. (Tucson 2017-2018)