signposts

I’m named after a saint who was known for his faith, resourcefulness and impeccable sense of direction. In the past, I’ve used this as a comical way to introduce myself because of how woefully short I fall from my namesake. There was a time I’m not sure I could find my way out of my own driveway.

Saint Brendan was an Irish monk from the 6th century who established churches in Britain and Ireland, and then travelled across the Atlantic, in a simple boat wrapped in leather – some even say he reached North America before the Vikings. The book, “The Brendan Voyage” makes the case that it was at least possible.

Recently, I had a realization that although our journeys are much different, I am gifted with a strong faith and more resoursefullness and sense of direction than I think.

I just finished the book “Becoming Who You Are” by Fr. James Martin, SJ where he highlights a variety of holy people, including Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. In one of Nouwen’s short book of essays titled Encounters with Merton, he states that Thomas Merton, “loved his friends, but didn’t use them, he was intensely thankful for everything he recieved from them, but he didn’t attach himself to them. More and more he learned to see his friends as signposts to God.”

After reading this I spent some time thinking of how I’ve interacted with my friends over the course of my life. There have been times when I attached myself to them and even defined myself by them and depended on them too much, not allowing the creation of my own identity. For most of my life, however, I have been blessed with the awareness that friends are exactly as Merton described, signposts to God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola would refer to his fellow Jesuits as “friends in the Lord” and ever since learning that, I have redefined what that word “friend” means. I do understand the deliniation of friends, family, co-workers, loved ones, aquantiances, etc. However, over time I have come to accept friend as a more fluid concept. Any one person in those groups described can act as a friend in various situations. I know it’s cliché but many people consider their significant other their best friend and I don’t think that’s wrong to do. A professor once told me the word friend can be defined as to mean “to set free” and I’ve always loved that concept. When we show ourselves as friends, we are helping to show the way to a more full existence, to share love and maybe even some guidance as we navigate troubled waters.

Because I’ve been paying attention to these signposts, I’m learning more about myself and my God.

I’m named after a saint known for his faith, resourcefulness, and sense of direction.

Hopefully now I can say that without it being a punchline.

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