Exploring Sacred Space: Learning from the friendships of Jesus
“There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” -John 13:23
Recognize the scene? This took place at the last supper, and the disciple who is resting on Jesus’ chest is John. Before this, Jesus had been anointed with perfume by the woman who dried his feet with her hair, he had entered Jerusalem on a donkey with people praising him and he had foretold of his own death in John 12:27. Here were the disciples, with their feet likely damp and tender from Jesus washing them just moments before. They were reclining at the table together for one last meal before Jesus went to die. This truly was a sacred moment.
To add to the sacredness, Jesus’ closest, most intimate friend was laying on his bosom. Someone’s bosom — or chest — was considered a place of honor and blessedness in Jesus’ time, and I think it is safe to say that it still stands as true today. It is a place reserved for those you are closest to. It might not be coincidence that when one reclines on another, like John did with Jesus, they are close to the other’s heart — they can hear their heartbeat.
From this scene, I observe a curious thing about friendship. It seems that one’s closest friends somehow deepen the sacredness of a space. John’s presence appears to have an integral role in setting the atmosphere for the last supper. When you have someone who can hear the heartbeat of Jesus, the mood is bound to be different. But I also observe another thing: not everybody is leaning on Jesus. Not all 12 disciples, not even the main three — but one. Only John leans on Jesus, because there is only room for him. Part of the sacredness of the moment is due to Jesus having only one close friend who’s leaning on him. This is an important lesson for us. Let me explain.
Over the years, and especially here at college, I have learned that we have the capacity and brain space to invest in, at most, a couple of close friends, if not just one. You can have up to three or four main friends and you can really only have one best friend. Sure, you can have lunch with a different friend every day, and you might have deep conversations with many people here and there — but when it comes down to it, you can only have one or two people with whom you sustain a deep relationship. There are only a few in this world that you will know to the core, spend the most time with and love with all your heart. Humans have limits.
I imagine that for a lot of you who are reading this, it is hard to deal with the fact that you can really only have one or two of these intimate friendships. You want to be this kind of friend to everyone. It is a worthy ambition. I have had the same desire myself. I am a people pleaser and I don’t want anyone to think poorly of me because I can’t spend extensive time with him or her. It causes me great pain, sometimes, to think of all the people I do not have the time to have deep relationships with.
So if one has the desire to have 15 best friends, what does one do? The first thing is to realize that he or she cannot have that many. If you try to sustain that many deep relationships, you would eventually have no time left to live your life — it would all be spent going out to coffee and talking for hours upon end. And since you are not living anything that resembles a life, you would have nothing to talk about! Not only that, but the friendships you tried to deepen would most likely remain sub par because there are simply too many to handle at once.
Once we come to terms with our limited capacity for numerous deep friendships, we need to seek out the few people we want to invest in. Jesus did this with his most beloved disciple John, as it says in Matthew 4:21. Amid those few people is the one — the person we love most in this world. There is no telling when or where we will find the Johns, but I believe that God will lead us to them in the right time and place.
Once we find that person, the next step is to begin the process of knowing them deeply, which requires a lot of time, energy, patience and desire. You have to want it, even after knowing that all deep friendships bring pain and joy, rain and sun, darkness and light. When you enter a friendship, you agree to go though life together, which, as we know, is not a forever-lighthearted, happy-all-the-time journey. You agree to bear each other’s burdens, heavy as lead. But you also agree to share in each other’s joys, light as hummingbirds.
Friendship is an agreement to go deeper into life while growing deeper together. It is no easy task, but I am certain it is a rewarding one. It is from this one deep friendship that leads to increased sacred space. With them, all spaces where both of you dwell are spaces that become sacred. The dual presence of your souls in one place transforms the area into something sacred — a place where all of life can be experienced.
I come back to Jesus. He had his 12. He had his three. And most of all, he had his one: the most cherished and intimate friend. So I ask you now: Who is your one? Who is your John?