Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Soul Friends

Dear Friends,

The ancient Christian Celts sought out the “thin places” where the spiritual realm of heaven was so close it seemed as if it were a footstep away. The Celts were profoundly aware of the presence of God and sought to live their life in the manner that we today call “walking with Jesus.” The Christian Celts in Ireland and Scotland, (my own family roots) suffered through famine and disease in an incredibly harsh climate and yet, in their struggles, they managed to live in peace and harmony with each other. In communities of faith, what enabled them to find joy in the gray winters of their life was their anamchara.
The Gaelic word “anamchara” [ah-num-KAH-ra] is translated as “soul friend” and originally referred to those in monastic life. Men who entered the Celtic monasteries were assigned an older brother in the community who would shepherd them through their early days in religious life and would often become a lifelong friend. Celtic scholar Edward Sellner says that to be a soul friend is to provide a place of sanctuary to another where, through acceptance, love and hospitality, both individuals can grow in wisdom and in depth. In the sixties, when we found a person of the opposite sex whose soul seemed to be intertwined with ours, we called them our “soul mate.” But the anamchara is closely associated with Christianity and flows out of our relationship with God. It’s been said that, “Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. Jesus is the secret Anamchara of every believer.”

A soul friend is the person with whom you can talk about anything. The relationship is safe and trustworthy. You can reveal the secret sins that your lips tremble to name because you know that your anamchara can be trusted. You can remove the masks of pretense, of egotism, of pride and unshutter the window to your soul. 

Jim was the head elder in a mainline megachurch and we were each other’s accountability partner many years ago. We met weekly and God used us to help each other stay on the straight and narrow path destined for every Christian man. We supported and encouraged each other through difficult times in our marriages. We were each other’s anamchara. Brain cancer took Jim from this temporary home on earth and he is now spending eternity with Jesus. I still miss him.

In Celtic Christianity, your anamchara was someone of the same gender. In our Bible, the close friendship between Jonathan and David exemplifies the anamchara between two men. “..the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” 1 Samuel 18:1 The Hebrew word translated as loved is the same word used to refer to the love that people had for God and the love that God had for His people. In an anamchara friendship, both people grow into a greater love for God and a fuller and more rewarding sense of His presence in their lives.

Too many of us live our lives mired in our secret struggles and we wrestle alone with our finances, job issues, marital problems and with questions and doubts about our faith. But a soul friend provides a sanctuary (a holy place) where the worst parts of us can be acknowledged. And then, through repentance and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our lives can be transformed and genuine change can occur.

In a loving relationship between soul friends, when there is no physical attraction or co-dependencies, what remains is a godly love for one another – an  unconditional commitment to the care of another’s soul and to the person’s spiritual growth. To be in an anamchara relationship means being a good listener. Being noncritical, compassionate, trustworthy and safe. It also means telling the truth when it needs to be told. It’s being spiritually mature and maintaining a humble spirit – knowing it is the Holy Spirit who is guiding and directing the relationship.

A 12th century Celtic monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, in writing about the soul friendship said,“Here we are, you and I, and a third is also present–Christ Himself. Since no one else is here to disturb us, open your heart and let me hear what you have to say.”

Is God calling you to be the soul friend of someone that He has brought into your life? Is He calling you into relationship with someone with whom you can walk on a mutual journey of faith and share the innermost secrets of your heart? Someone who will speak the truth in love and love you unconditionally as you will love them? Someone who will help you in your pursuit of God? 

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