The classic children’s book, The Wind in the Willows, chronicles the escapades of its well-known animal characters – Mole, Rat, Toad, Badger and Otter. In chapter 7, Mole and Rat search for Otter’s missing son Portly, whom they find in care of the god Pan. As they approach Pan, Mole turns to Rat: “‘Rat.’ He found breath to whisper, shaking, ‘Are you afraid?’ ‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. ‘Afraid? Of Him? O, never, never. And yet – and yet – O Mole, I am afraid.’”C.S. Lewis cites this exchange as a literary example of the “numinous experience” – an experience of religious awe that transcends simple fear. Although the words used to express the fear of danger and the words expressing awe of the numinous may be identical, the experiences themselves are altogether different.Lewis clarifies the difference between fear and awe with an example: “Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘there is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger… It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread… Now suppose that you were told simply ‘there is a mighty spirit in the room,’ and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and certain shrinking – a sense of inadequacy to cope with […]
“For without friends, no one would choose to live.” (Aristotle, Ethics)
Aristotle may be right; a life without friends is often a dreary one. But at the same time, these relationships can become a significant burden, as the obligations that inevitably accompany friendship cut into our limited free time.
Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend, explained that the obligations required of friendship were too heavy for him to bear:
“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Whoever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.” (Charles Dickens, Letter to Maria Winter, April 3, 1855)
Time is our most precious commodity. As Henry David Thoreau writes in Walden Pond, “the cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it immediately, or in the long run.” By Thoreau’s measure, friendship is quite expensive. Like our relationships with our spouses and children, forming a deep friendship requires time – time to talk over coffee, and time to hang out with the guys. The problem is, our hectic Orthodox lifestyle, which carries along with it significant communal and spiritual obligations, leaves us precious little free time. Between […]