In a recent post, a teaching ‘from Jesus’ about the friends of God was presented. It is a Muslim story, first because it was collected from Muslim sources, and most obviously because it has the disciples asking Jesus to explain a verse of the Qur’an, which had not yet been revealed when the band of fishermen was called to their mission from the shores of Galilee. Therefore it is not ‘historical’ in the way that the Gospels try to be, but the wisdom of the story is certainly in harmony with what has been received as the teaching of Jesus; it is not impossible that the story is a re-formulation of some remembered encounter that was passed from generation to generation until it was written in this form.
In the story, the disciples ask, “Who are the friends of God?” and Jesus responds by describing certain attitudes and behaviours: a friend is one who does this and this, and not that. The tale, therefore, is about the duties of friendship. It is very beneficial and useful instruction without doubt, but it passes over the pearl of the subject, the simple and profound possibility of entering into intimacy with the Divine Presence.
We know from our human experiences that friendship cannot be self-proclaimed or unilateral. The man selling donkeys in the market may say he is the friend of the king in the palace, but if they have never met, then the words are only air; they have no meaning. The man’s pretended friendship will never stand a test. If the king asks for the man’s donkeys–or even his life!–as a gift, the man in the market may find that his allegiance has suddenly shifted, whereas real friendship does not change so easily.
Friendship implies a mutual recognition, and a link of sympathy. Only those can be called the ‘friends’ of God whom God has drawn to Himself. A soul so privileged would never make a claim or boast, and in any case words would never be adequate to describe such a state. Nevertheless, having tasted the real wine of friendship, the great souls are willing to generously share the bowl with all. Someone once asked Inayat Khan how they should address him, if they should use some title or offer him some special form of respect, and he replied simply, “Call me Inayat, and let me be your friend.”
The Invocation describes a journey: we go ‘Toward the One.’ What is more, we go in good company, ‘united with all the illuminated souls.’ That is also a lesson from our human experience: if we wish to know someone, we may begin by cultivating one who knows the one we seek. Perhaps we do not yet recognise the presence of God in our life, but we can begin by befriending His friends, the countless illuminated souls who have held aloft the light of Truth; we have only to open our hearts to them, and they will respond. The one who consistently and sincerely tries this–every day for a week, say, or more–will certainly feel the beginnings of a profound change in their life.