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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Article: KAIROS God's Friendship

A talk used on the KAIROS Retreat on “God’s Friendship.”

My talk is on God’s friendship and I played this song (Up On The Roof, In My Room, Out in the Country) because it is positive and reflective and because I have a private place where I first developed my friendship with God – in the middle of a state forest where my family lives. The place is incredibly pristine and isolated. We all need a place where we can escape and be who were truly, authentically are – whether it is in the safe confines of your room, up on the roof, out in the country, or any other special place.

Since my family lives seven miles away from town, I was always able to find a special spot deep in the forest where I could get away from the crazy demands of life and the dysfunction of my family. I realized that I had great magical places to discover, much like the films “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” where the forces of good would come to aid me and defend me from the malevolent enemy. The forest and fields and the lake would be my source of refuge and a place where I could be free.

I would find that I would begin to escape to the forest because I could sit among the trees and tell my story. At that time, I did not know that I was telling my story to Jesus, but as I look back on it, it was indeed a time in which I came to know the God made flesh, the God who is my brother. My family story, like most family stories, was very difficult and fraught with a lot of pain. I would escape to the forest to let the sting of my pain subside and there were times when I felt like I was talking with someone who listened and would reassure me. At first it felt like talking to air and I wondered, “Is anyone really listening?” or are these just voices in my head? Am I answering myself? But I noticed, that when I came to a certain point, I knew I could return home and I would be comforted in some way. I could go on for another day. It would be bearable. And I realized that I was beginning to trust my experience. And isn’t trust a big part of any relationship? I knew that stepping into the forest would help me do two things – to build up the walls around myself to protect me from harm, and to tear down that walls in my life that were destructive to my well-being. And this other voice, the voice that I now know was Jesus, was there to guide me. Jesus became an important friend. What are friends anyways? They are people who you like and like you back, but they see things differently from you and provide you with a different perspective. Friends don’t always agree with you or do exactly what you want them to do. Friends share a bond, but remain as individuals.

If friendships are nourished and grow after a period of time and testing and absence, is it possible to develop a friendship with Jesus.? Let’s look at this. With friends, we have an initial curiosity about the other and we ask questions to find out what the other likes – the way he thinks – the ways she chooses – what the other values. We see if it lines up with what we like. If so, we hang out together sometime and we don’t do much of anything – we just exist and we play and we tell stories. We have fun with one another. We then listen and support and encourage and finally our support for one another begins to take risks. When we show compassion, we risk pain and suffering to ourselves as we hold someone else’s story with respect. That is when we know that we have grown to a new level of friendship and intimacy. We behold another person and are filled with appreciation. We cannot betray another person’s story. We build bonds that will last forever. We have to learn to do these very things with Jesus because he is the silent voice in the forest or up on the roof or in whatever place were you retreat and find consolation – just waiting to develop a deeper friendship with you. I suggest that when we go back into our favorite, private places, we spend time just being with Jesus, having no real objective, but to tell our own story to him. And as you know, you can tell him about not only your dreams and hopes, but also the areas of pain and shame that debilitate you. Anything goes in this talk.

A fruitful time for me was when I made my silent thirty-day retreat when I prayed over the hidden life of Jesus. No scripture exists for this period and I had to imagine what Jesus’ life was like between the ages of 12 and 30. I thought I was completely lost. Well, as soon as I got into this prayer, I began to relate to Jesus better than I ever had. I imagined that I was 12 years old and he was 14 – a little older and wiser. He did things like go down to the lake and swim and ride bikes and scoop up pollywogs and frogs and look for snakes and glide on tire swings and cook over a campfire. We just had a blast. No parents were around and we spent all of our days together. This went on for some time and I realized Jesus liked me and I liked him back. In my prayer, I can return to the campfire to be with Jesus so we can just be in one another’s company and tell these stories of our day to one another. The grace is “spending time with one another.” During this time around the campfire, I was able to tell Jesus all the stuff that hurt me or concerned me or the things that I kept walled up from him and others. You know what? He accepted me. He accepted all that I had to tell him – even those areas of my life where I may feel shame. And then he told me lots about his life that I hadn’t known. We built a solid friendship because we told each other our stories, but he always asked me to integrate who I am and what I think into my public life. Integrity is key. Today, I can still share my hurts and concerns and my hopes and joys and he appreciates them, but he challenges me at times to open my heart to others, to myself, and to him.

So it doesn’t stop there. We need our place of refuge, but we need to go back home or to our community and live the life to which Jesus calls us. If the forest is merely a place of escape, we risk losing the battle. The forest, or your favorite safe place, must be that fortress that gives us courage to persevere. Life is not easy; life is not fair and there are many destructive qualities to life and we must be in search of that which helps us find life and hold onto it tightly. Life has a way of helping us build walls around us, especially in those areas where we feel embarrassed or shamed. Those are areas where we need healing, not forgiveness, but healing. It comes from all angles - parents, schoolmates, friends and romantic interests, and many other places. What are some of these possible walls?

o Do you add a brick to the wall by trying to manage or hide the fact that you or your parents are alcoholics, or that you are fond of drugs, that you are intrigued by pornography, that you are an overeater or have an eating disorder or find that you don’t like part of your body, that you are unlucky in love and you wonder if you will ever find someone to share intimacy with you.

o Do you add another brick to the wall because by hiding yourself behind a false role because you are frustrated that you are not taller, more athletic, popular, wiser or more intelligent. Perhaps you compensate by cheating on exams. Perhaps you find that you are embarrassed by your family or someone in particular, that your brother has a mental illness or your sister is disabled.

o Maybe the wall gets higher because you have been honest in a relationship and feel betrayed by someone else and don’t know how to get healing; that you have been violated in a date rape or forced to have sex against your will or better judgment; perhaps you took advantage of another sexually. Perhaps you have been a victim of another’s bullying power.

o Perhaps you add another brick because you don’t want to feel like you stand out because you are of a certain race or nationality, that you are a gay man or lesbian, that you don’t feel like you have equal opportunities in life, that you are poor and are ashamed of choices your parents have made.

o Do you add another layer of brick to protect yourself from more hurt because you feel unloved by one or both of your parents, that you don’t belong to a certain social group or class, that you are the reason for your parents’ divorce, that you are adopted.

The list can go on and on. We have to be conscious of what we are building or taking down. Most times, we don’t even know that we are building a fortress around ourselves and we lose control of just how high it is. Many times we don’t even see the shame we carry – or hide – or deceive ourselves about. That is why we need friends. We need to learn how to listen to our friends and parents, to our teachers and coaches, to our guides and mentors, and most importantly to Jesus. He is the only one that can feel your deepest hurts. He is the one who can give you courage in your special place together, because you were made for the world, not for isolation. Step forth into this journey of life and tear down the walls you are creating before they get too high and too foreboding. It takes courage to take a hammer to what has protected us and served us well and what we have created. We have to take down the walls the debilitate us and keep us from being the most authentic person we can be.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall is about a young man who is unknowingly taught to build a wall that nearly destroys him. People in his life who are well intentioned cause him to build the wall higher and higher, but in the end, self-acceptance and salvation are what is important. This young man, beaten down by life, has to face the judge who conducts a trial where teacher, mother, and lover stand as accusers and the accused. And for the love of this man’s life, taking sympathy for all the wrong that was done to him, the judge orders the man to tear down the wall that binds him. And he cannot do it alone. Nor can we do not do it alone, because, as the story progresses, we see that there are people outside the wall trying to reach us.

People outside the wall are trying to stay in touch with you and keep you connected, and they will work until they drop until they reach you. They are not going to stop trying. Reach out to them in response. Together we stand, divided we fall. As the words to the story ends, we are told that “All alone or in two’s the ones who really love you walk up and down outside the wall. Some hand in hand. Some gathered together in bands, the bleeding hearts and the artists make their stand. And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall, after all it is not easy banging your head against some mad bugger’s wall.” My friends, tear down the wall. Tear down the wall.

Reflection Questions:

1: Do I have a favorite place where I can go and tell my secrets?
2: I build a wall around myself when I feel….
3: Is there a brick in the wall I need special courage to take down?


  1. Father Predmore,

    As you approach the sunset of your tertianship, when and where will your Jesuit Final Vow mass be? Will Cheverus High School students be going on busses there? Would you the Jesuits want to integrate your final vow mass with a retreat day for the Juniors? I think it would be special for the students to see and a unique opportunity.

  2. Thank you, anonymous. I will have to go through a whole process of being invited and then applying for final vows. It can take a year or two. Once the process unfolds, I'll be able to make a determination with my provincial about what next happens. Folks from Cheverus are indeed to be invited.