A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace
by William A. Barry, S.J.
Review By Dr. M.L. Petty, Vice President of Student Affairs
“Behold God beholding you… and smiling” – Anthony de Mello, SJ
This quote is actually used on the Rev. William Barry, S.J.’s, website regarding the Campion Renewal Center. I thought it was appropriate to introduce both Barry and his book through one of my other favorite writers, Anthony de Mello, S.J. Below is a brief introduction of Barry regarding his ordination, education and his current work environment, as found on the CRC web-site:
“Father Barry entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Presently he resides at Campion Center where he is co-director of a nine-month Jesuit Tertianship Program and gives retreats and spiritual direction.”
Barry’s recent book, A Friendship Like No Other, highlights the essence of a mutual loving relationship between God and us. Barry begins with the premise that God indeed desires a close friendship/love relationship with us. I was particularly interested in how Barry struggled with this realization. He recognizes that God does not “need” us to be friends with Him; but clearly God desires us to be in a familial relationship. In other words (as only a counselor can put this) God isn’t codependent on us!
The book is an easy read, a delightful read. His writing style is conversational, and often times he writes as if speaking to friends. I also think his use of examples and reflective exercises are thoughtful. Through out the book you cannot miss the invitation to a deeper companionship with God. The book is written in three distinct parts:
Part I – Experiencing God’s Desire for Friendship starts with the meaning of friendship; friendship with God in the bible; the first stages of friendship with God: attraction and disturbances; going deeper in friendship with God: coming to know Jesus as friend; and the spirit and the community of God’s friends. Part I sets the reader up for why God desires a friendship with us in biblical fashion, and too, a series of prayerful exercises and reflections leading to a fuller understanding of God as friend. Barry’s use of scripture is effective and meaningful, such as: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing: but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15: 15-16) Barry writes: Can you hear Jesus calling you friend? Just keep asking to believe that he is talking about you when he says those words. His writing is reflective and affirming.
Part II- Understanding Ourselves and God begins with the question how could God want my friendship? Barry confronts the questions of ‘self-centered’ spirituality; where does salvation figure in to friendship with God; does friendship lead to compassion for God, how do we treat our friends; and how do you reconcile God’s anger and justice with friendship? This part of the book Barry looks closely at the objections towards having a friendship with the living God. In my own life there have been times, when I felt much like the psalmist writing: when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them. (Psalm 8:3-4) I have at times felt that I was surely insignificant in the eyes of God with the entire universe to care for…and yet he reminds us that the issue isn’t our insignificance at all, no matter how true that may be, “but what God desires in creating us.” There is an absolutely beautiful poem by Franz Wright in the book that underscores this theme perfectly.
While there is time
I call to mind Your constant unrequited
And preemptive forgiveness.
And remember You are not
And never were the object
Of my thought,
but rather I
was the object of Yours!
And I think I’m beginning to learn finally
what everything has been trying to teach me
for the past fifty years of forever;
total love for you—the mysterious gift of my life-
truly felt at each instant
and every day
of deepest recollection,
grace-filled apprehension, it would
dispel all fear, as well
as the love the requires a response—
from others, other
Barry says “the biggest obstacle to a true relationship with God is our belief that the relationship depends, ultimately, on us.” Wright reminds us in his poem that “If God wants my friendship, it doesn’t matter how insignificant I feel.”
Part III of this simple book is about experiencing God and discerning what those experiences mean to us. Barry asks the significant question: where do we experience God drawing us into a deeper relationship to him? Innately as believers we know that God is everywhere—our difficulty comes when we do not pay attention. He also describes holy ground (the place where heaven and earth meet) with biblical references, but I particularly like his use of the Irish idiom “thin spaces” to describe the border between heaven and earth, in other words, sacred space. For me, this might be the beach…a place that I can clearly find God’s presence. I can also find God’s divine presence in poetry, art and music.
Barry ends this chapter on a clear, concise description of Ignation discernment regarding experiencing God. The question he answers for us is: how do you know you are listening to the right spirit? The answer is both complex and simple: are you walking in the right way? Paying attention to the subtle messages God is sending through our circumstances and others, and how we are moving in the world is often a way of communicating.
The path to a closer relationship with God isn’t any different than building a closer relationship with your family, friends and those you love. Barry ends this special book writing: God wants friendship with you and with me and with all our brothers and sisters in the world. Let’s take the offer, shall we? Bless you all.