Companionship vs Intimacy

Companionship vs Intimacy April 29, 2010

It’s been awhile since I posted about Benedictine hospitality and my hope of understanding what it means to live a life of genuine openness to others. I’ve been reading a book called Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, which has some good things to say despite its unfortunate quality of writing (which makes sifting the good stuff out of it a little challenging).

Yesterday, however, I came across a chapter that has been resonating with me. The chapter is titled “Companionship and Intimacy” and begins by making the claim that we no longer have clear definitions of either of those words and live our lives confused about the varying levels of closeness in relationships. The authors (Father Daniel Homan, OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt) explain their belief that our culture gives the wrong idea about the importance of intimacy: that spiritually healthy people are those who constantly “connect to others in a profound way.” (130). They go one to make the claim that despite our need for “relationships of depth,” in order to live hospitable lives we have to learn to be a simple companion to everyone we come in contact with, without forcing depth into every relationship. We learn how to fully listen, be present to the people around us, and show that we care, without always being fully known (130-131).

I’m ruminating on this. Though Homan and Pratt claim that “Media” is the culprit for teaching us the necessity of intimacy in every relationship, I’m not sure I buy that. I do, however, agree that we really don’t know how to pursue simple companionship. And I’m wondering if my need to “go deep” (to use some Christianese) with everyone I come in contact with is more a result of the Christian culture I live in than in the Media’s lies. (My humble opinion: the “Media” gets blamed for every cultural failure we know of…at least in every freshman Writing 105 paper I graded when I taught college writing. What do we even mean when we say it’s the Media’s fault?)

How often do I automatically consider intimate connections when I think of having significant relationships in the church or in life? I know that I’m leery of building relationships here in San Francisco because I feel like a failure at keeping up with the friends I already have in the other places I’ve lived. To be a friend to more means to fail more. It means more emails I won’t reply to for months. It means more people eventually giving up on a phone relationship with me because I’m a phoneophobe (is that a word?).

I love people and I believe in meaningful relationships, but is it possible that I don’t know how to simply love and care for those around me without building relationships of depth that I can’t fully commit to? And is that a selfish thing to be thinking about? Are Homan and Pratt getting at something that makes me nervous because I feel like it’s wrong to build a relationship that is not a complete commitment of myself?

To quote Homan and Pratt: “Discretion requires you to respect someone without trying to be their best friend. Hospitality is not a call to unquestioning intimacy with the whole world…Hospitality is a call to revere what is sacred in every person ever born” (139).

I’d really like to know what you think about this. In order for us to truly be people who are open to the needs of others, we have to be willing to meet the surface level needs of those around us, without forcing depth. What is your response to these definitions of “companionship and intimacy”? Do you find yourself pursuing both kinds of relationships or only those of depth? And where do you think these definitions fit in the larger discussion of hospitality?

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