The Lost Rites of Friendship

The Lost Rites of Friendship

I was recently made aware that a movie featuring Le Petit Prince was streaming recently and my sister and I have been eager to watch it together. Perhaps it was destiny that Le Petit Prince, written by poet and aristocrat Antoine, count of Saint-Exupéry, was the first piece of literature ever read to me as a child. I can still remember my aunt crying as she went from chapter to chapter while I prepared for bed. I asked her why she was crying and she told me not to worry and that she was just tired. As a child, the impact was obviously not as great as it could have been, but as I grew older, I became more and more aware of the significance of this little novella about love, friendship, loss, and the important things in life.

There were several chapters that stayed with me deeply buried in the living garden of my heart and its lessons only now began to unfold themselves like a rose blooming to release its fragrance. One such lesson was the one taught in my favourite encounter when The Little Prince meets with the Fox. It is difficult to quote the passage for, if taken in pieces, it loses some of the tenderness which is at the heart of the qualitative difference between teaching and mentoring; between knowing someone’s name and dancing with them. Indeed, Le Petit Prince should be experienced in its organic totality.

Nonetheless, for those of us who have been blessed with the eyes of The Divine Child so that we may see the importance of the invisible and for those of us who have already been baptized by the tears of lonely sand dunes and twinklings stars and have lived to see older age, we can now look back and embrace certain lessons that may have been lost in the intervening years. For in the interaction between The Little Prince and the Fox, there can be found the archetype of mature, adult friendships.

As with most things obscured by the smog of the modern world, there are two mirages that must be avoided when approaching Le Petit Prince. One is the most obvious: the reduction to utility. For most people, Le Petit Prince might be seen as an exercise in childhood “fantasy.” It might be seen as “irrelevant” and “saccharine.” People might look at it and see nothing but things to grow out of—something, ironically, which the novella itself addresses. The cynic snickers at it as some artifact of childhood to be isolated in the museum of useless things.

Worse still are the individuals who claim to have grown out of it, but, in reality, have not matured at all. They simply look back and see it as “useless entertainment” to be replaced by Skyrim for some or television shows for others. In other words, “childhood” in general is reduced by the immature mind to simply the playground of “entertainment.” Just as modern people have lost all understanding of “meal” and replaced it with “fast food” or “instagram food,”i so, too, have modern people lost all understanding that “childhood” was not simply the bedrock of “fun” but that this “fun” was the foundation to build upon so that the child may rise to consider higher things. One can see this most evidently in the way in which “fairy tales” are no longer treated as allegorical lessons to increase the character of a child, but as “delightful” and “family friendly” tools of distraction that parents deploy to make themselves feel better for not providing a transcendent experience for their domestic church. Divorcing the vertical element from the horizontal element is certainly a major current in the way most people look at the novella.

The other mirage is the dissolution embraced by those who purport to “love” such “carefree feelings.” Many moderns who rebel against the rigid and confining environment of their calculated existence look at the novella almost like a “revolutionary” icon. They see things like Le Petit Prince as defiantly nostalgic; defiantly anti-bourgeois; and defiantly bohemian. They see it as a means to escape from what they consider to be a slavish reality. To them, the novella is like a manifesto against the bourgeois world and its demands of productivity and literality. Yet, they, too, fall into the kind of condescending utility that the first mirage offers. Instead of learning from the words, they simply agree to the “feeling” of freedom it provides. It is like those fools that think of Saint Francis as the first tree-hugging hippie. Indeed, the cult of utility once again rears its ugly head for the novella is, for them, not a teaching experience in itself, but is used by individuals to achieve their own ends and agendas.

Dismissal and Dialectic, therefore, become the two poles of the modern world when faced with Le Petit Prince. If one keeps in mind these two tendencies and dispels the miasma from one’s eyes, then one can be ready to return to The Little Prince and the Fox as they guide the reader through an experience of Friendship.

I have decided to focus on this instance and topic in particular because, I believe, it is one of the most profound lessons of the novella which has been missed not just by the modern population at large, but, specifically, by those who purport to have achieved some level of spiritual maturity.

Many individuals that I know—especially Catholics—pride themselves in being able to live “virtuous” lives. They go to mass, they say their prayers. They understand the ritual of religion as something important to live both outwardly and inwardly. They understand that meal time is sacred. They look at marriage as a participation in the divine life. They cross themselves in all humility and they are content to live in the fullness of truth. I also know many non-Catholics who pride themselves in their quest for the mature masculinity. They engage in risk; they uphold their honour; they go forth in courage; and they avoid vice.

And yet, why do so many of these individuals treat friendship in the same disorganized and chaotic fashion as the moderns they so wish to dissociate from? They go about friendships promiscuously, superficially, and expect the friendship to grow “organically.” They do not direct friendships like a gardener tending to his garden and instead expect only “fun” and “entertainment” or “shared interest” to define what it means to be friends. Even those who purport to be friends on spiritual terms seek out only common external goals: going to mass together, discussing Evola together, etc. If one merely replaces these activities and topics with “rallies” and “Marx” then one can see why there is no qualitative difference between “traditional” friendships and “modern” ones. The difference is only topical.

However, “depth” as a barrier to true friendship is the most obvious to most people. Indeed, many of these individuals I speak about above are already keenly aware of their lack of depth. It is neglecting the second force, alongside depth, that constitutes the major failure of most individuals I know vis-à-vis friendship: rhythm.

Rhythm is experienced in many levels in the human person; and it is its combination with depth that constitutes the basis of any real bond. At the most basic level, it is indicated in the beauty of the sexual act. The depth of penetration and the rhythm inherent in this basic form of union is obvious enough. Higher is the process of the digestive system which unites the food to the body through depositing it deep in the human organism and rhythmically guiding it along the digestive tract. Higher still is the depth of the heart which is special in its definitive association with depth and rhythm. It is here that we associate our sense of “love” as it sits at what we experience as our “core” or deepest part of ourselves while its rhythmic beating is “life.” Finally, it is the head that is also aided by depth and rhythm as its association with the lungs assimilates the invisible world into ourselves.

Any healthy organism, therefore, benefits from both depth and rhythm. On a vertical plane, this is one reason why the spiritual organism benefits from the depth and rhythm of prayer, meditation, frequent reception of the sacraments, etc. We engage in spiritual procreation; spiritual digestion; spiritual circulation; and spiritual respiration. Our prayers go up to heaven like venous blood and blessings return as arterial bloodii. This becomes real in the rituals of the Church which are the “same” in a series of cycles and yet can be plumbed for greater and greater depth.

This, too, is the lesson of The Little Prince and the Fox: that friendship requires the same combination of rhythm and depth.

“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”iii

The Fox indicates rightly that they have no need for each other; that true friendship transcends the initial utilitarianism of the modern world. After all, how many times have we known individuals who make friends merely based on what that friend can do for them? Would we not deny that as being true friendship? The Fox also notes how uniqueness is not something obvious in each individual, but it is discovered and cultivated through an encounter. In other words, uniqueness is only achieved through the depth of getting to know the other person—in “taming” them. The Little Prince asked, “what does that mean–‘tame’?” to which the Fox replies: “‘it is an act too often neglected,’ said the fox. ‘It means to establish ties.’”iv

This depth becomes superabundant if properly attended to. It reaches out to colour the entire world in which the lover and loved one lives.

“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”v

How much more could I add to such a beautiful image? Is it not obvious to the reader that true depth in friendship will also make fears (the footsteps) joys? Is it not obvious that it will make the useless (wheat) pregnant with happiness? Perhaps subtler is the idea that monotony will turn into euphoria for what could be more monotonous than the sun rising on another work day and yet, for the Fox, that golden colour is now clothed in radiance. Is this not the paradox of love? Did this not find its most paradoxical expression on the beautiful ugliness of the cross? Of the lifegiving death of the condemnation of an innocent man? Of the victory in defeat?

So then how can one approach this depth? It begins with silence.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”vi

Indeed, silence has been the method for depth for a long time. One need only look at monasteries and ashrams to experience the truth of this. Bishop Massimo Camisasca had this to say about silence:

Silence is an opportunity to perceive the work of God operating in the depths. If there is no silence, we would perceive only the surface, the crust of this work. Without silence, everything becomes journalism, a newspaper story. Silence is of course prayer, so long as we do not understand prayer as a pious practice, but as a living awareness of being generated, of being made here and now, and thus also as a request for being…vii

In other words, not only is silence the gateway to “depth”, but that “depth” here is now properly defined. Any real depth is to find the divine operating in the other person. That which forms proper friendship is that resonance between the imago Dei of the self and in the Other. In other words, it is the Encounter of the Incarnation!

Camisasca continues by saying:

The realization that God has chosen to meet me where I am through something human implies a great responsibility on my part. Loving actual persons is an adventure that never ends. There never comes a time in my responsibility as a brother, a father, or a friend when I can say “well, now we’re OK, we have solved all our problems, now we can relax.” Every person is a living reality: some day a new aspect of his personality will come to light, and it will be our task to welcome it responsibly.

A mature belonging to the company in which we live out our vocation requires this type of obedience: obedience to the other as he is, moment by moment. We acquire this capacity to love the other gradually, through trials, difficulties, and exhilarating discoveries. For this reason, a responsible friendship requires patience, it requires the ability to accept and accompany the other.”viii

Depth, therefore, is to break through the surface of superficiality and adhere to the realized divine within. It is the realization that friendship is an Encounter with the Incarnation and becoming loyal to that association. It requires Faith because Faith is that which seeks the divine in the invisible and keeps one loyal to it. Faith is what allows us to keep friendships by recognizing that which is deeper than the superficiality of utility on the “crust.” Faith and obedience, therefore, achieve depth because they penetrate the external and visible.

Following silence towards Depth, however, can be daunting. One can understand this intuitively when one examines what it means to try and meditate in silence. One not only disables one’s own voice, but attempts to put away all distractions—put away the voices of one’s mind and all other external stimuli. Concentrating, therefore, also entails a “forgetting” of other things in order to focus on what is essential. It is an act of Preference. One prefers silence to speaking. One prefers concentrating to undifferentiated stimuli. One prefers one’s friends over others. This is the obedience Camisasca speaks of and it is this that the Fox means when he mentions how there shall be “uniqueness” between him and The Little Prince.

Now, as I mentioned before, most people are quite promiscuous in how they deal with friendships. To them, there is a reticence to create a hierarchy of preference among friends. There is a hesitance in concentrating on those preferences as if one offends the others through exclusion. However, this should not be a fear. Camisasca notes:

Preference is a school; it is a way in which God teaches us himself through particular proximities. The principal aim of preference, therefore, is openness to being, not closure to it. The goal of preference is to teach us the value of everything through a particular example that is affectively interesting for us. It is a method, because, if I were equally interested in everything, I would end up adhering to nothing; if all persons had the same significance for me, I would be equally distant from all of them, and I would end up not getting involved with any of them. I would try to get involved with all of them, and I would be overwhelmed. Preference is thus the method by which the Lord continually renews the freshness of our gaze upon the world. Preference is therefore not an invitation to exclusion, but a form of education.ix

Thus, that which affects us the most should be adhered to preferentially and fearlessly for the supernatural order of the universe is proximity, hierarchy, and locality in this regard. Silence, therefore, is a way to focus in on that preference and contemplate it similar to the slowly growing peripheral vision of the Fox and The Little Prince. After all, God chose the people of Israel. He chose Mary. He chose the Apostles. It is another exercise in the paradoxical superrationality of God when preference is not the same as exclusion. The reward for this concentration is depth and the reward for depth is all of the hundredfold rewards the Fox speaks of.

As for Rhythm, it is something the Fox begins to mention when he says to The Little Prince that he must come by every day. However, when the The Little Prince returns, the Fox corrects him gently:

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.” x

Rhythm, therefore, is that same adherence as Depth, but instead of proximity and the physical dimension, it is that of the temporal dimension. It is the ordering of time and seasons and the creation of a calendar. It is the hierarchy of time and experience which gives steady rise to rhythm. It is the assurance of expectation; it is the integrity of the lover. It is the fidelity of the lover to the relationship, yes, but it goes even further than that. The Fox mentions that this fidelity brings about joy in him. Thus, it is qualitatively different than the experience of faith in the knowledge of something deeper: it is the experience of the certainty of something to come. Rhythm, therefore, is Hope in the virtuous sense! For, after all, hope in tiny things such as “I hope Matteo speaks to me today” is merely a “wish.” Yet Hope is a certainty. This is what the fidelity of time creates: a certainty of that joy and reward.

This Rhythm, however, is not monotonous either. This is what the Fox meant when he says how The Little Prince should “sit a little closer” to him “every day.” The relationship advances every time it is refreshed. Indeed, part of the resistance many individuals have towards rhythm is this fear of monotony. But this fear betrays an underlying presupposition about relationships that is unhealthy: it supposes that relationships are static quantities—that the depth is finite and can only be repeated. One could liken it to a “closed loop.” I bring up this image because a wise man once spoke about such loops and their relationship to Rhythm:

In a world which is a closed circle, whose matter and energy are a constant quantity, there are no miracles. […] A miracle takes place when the energy of the world undergoes either an increase or a diminution. This presupposes an opening in the circle of the world. For a miracle to be possible, the world must be an open circle, the world must be a spiral, i.e. it must have an “uncreated” sphere or a “sabbath” […]

The “good news” of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance. There is an entrance, which is why Christmas is a joyous festival. There is an exit, which is why Ascension is a festival. And that the world can be transformed, such as it is, into such as it was before the Fall—this is the “good news” of the festival of festivals, the festival of the Resurrection.xi

In other words, Rhythm alone would provide nothing but a closed loop; but when combined with the “advancement” achieved by being obedient to Depth, one increases with every cycle. The friendship spirals outward more and more as Faith and Hope work together. It fills up the entirety of existence and becomes “festive.”

And yet how often do friendships even among those who claim to be “good” friends ever achieve this level of rhythm? How little effort is placed in setting and keeping times to engage in depth with each other? How many times have there been excuses on as to why one cannot be available? How often do people rely simply on the “organic” way in which friendships are acquired—through chance occurrence or willy-nilly invitations to conversations or, the worst possible type: depending on one’s “mood”? How often do people mistake their own visceral urges to disengage as “choices” clad in excuses. How many times has no one in a relationship attempted to advance in depth or rhythm because “that’s just how my personality is” or through feeling “exhausted”? How many times is that excuse echoed in all of the neuroses and impotences of modern, sedentary youth? Worse yet, how many times has someone attempted to advance the relationship and yet have been met with an absent or shallow partner? Instead, the loner is valourized. The introvert is made popular. The one who tries to gain dominion is made the villain. The extrovert is made the intruder. The anti-socialite is our new anti-hero. And yet are these introverts and hermits in the desert contemplating for the sake of the rest of us? No, more often than not they are merely awash in the dissolution of undifferentiated experiences and unable to adhere to any preference like glue dissolving in water.

The sad truth is that, especially among so called “men” who consider themselves differentiated, they desecrate the Sabbath of Friendship. They do not offer rites or sacrifices on the altar of relationships at any regular interval and, instead, like Protestants, rely on the orgiastic, swooning exhilaration of promiscuous associations. Or, like atheists, refuse to adhere to the regularity of ritual until they’re in dire need from spiritual hunger. It is true, therefore, what the Fox says that these rites are so often “neglected.” We should not be surprised, therefore, that people, despite the insane level of interaction afforded to us by the modern world, are lonelier than ever…

It was so appropriate that the author of Le Petit Prince chose to close his tale with an image of a star above the desert. For we have all been that aviator who crashed into the desert of modernity. We have all been guilty of burying the Rites in the sand. And yet, by some miracle, some of us have been visited. A star shone on us. Some of us have been taught what it is that depth and rhythm produce; through depth, which is faith, and rhythm, which is hope. For these two together always produce the true bonds of Friendship. Which is why the third term always follows. Depth and Rhythm and Friendship achieved is the virtuous life of Faith, Hope, and Love.

i c.f. My previous post on “being useless.”

ii c.f. Meditations on the Tarot, Letter VII: The Chariot.

iii Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Chapter XXI.

iv Ibid.

v Ibid.

vi Ibid.

vii The Challenge of Fatherhood, Massimo Camisasca, pp. 51.

viii Ibid. pp. 51-52.

ix Ibid. pp. 81.

x Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Chapter XXI.

xi Meditations on the Tarot, pp. 243.

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