Soul friendship — “anam cara” — is gem slowly being affirmed by faith communities around the world. Tied to Celtic Christian practice and belief, I don’t sense it every really ‘disappeared’ so much as it became muted by doctrines that idolized institutions such as marriage, calling these the epitome of intimacy
As we rediscover the depth of intimacy in the many places it can be found, I’m finding it gratifying (dare I say “hopeful”?) that people of all sorts are not only discovering anam cara, but are affirming it.
What’s so important about affirmation?
Coming from a single’s standpoint, it’s difficult to treasure love and intimacy with someone you hold dear when people, whether they are happy for me or not, still pat me on the head and cluck that I could never truly understand intimacy because it’s not within a marriage. Not only does this defy intimacy at its core, but it strangles people from being with one another. And take it from me, living a life relegated to imitation intimacy (because it’s not a marriage) is incredibly lonely. I’m discovering that God has a warmer, more delightful vision involved. So when others embrace this vision, too, I feel like I’m welcomed at the table. I can contribute. I can be a part of God’s family.
My friend, who is married, finds it frustrating that church often shoves her towards making her husband her best friend. Her sister is her best friend, and that’s that. She and her husband have a beautiful relationship, but both understand that they aren’t each other’s soul friend as it were. And they aren’t sinners because of it, and they aren’t missing out on something great because they already are experiencing something great.
Here’s some great wisdom from Brooke Leigh Sheldon:
“For love allows understanding to dawn, and this understanding is precious for where you are understood, you are ever at home. So, when you are bestowed with the allegiance of your “Anam Cara”, it is believed, you have arrived at the most sacred of places, your true HOME.”
Talk about thin spaces — those numinous places between the spiritual world and the physical world that could be marked by a well/spring or the sea hitting the shore. It could also look like lives finding life between one another. There would have to be thin space, vulnerable space, for home to dwell there.
Now that’s a scary thought.
Vulnerability, like people, is constantly changing. People need different levels of vulnerability in their relationships at different times; not everyone will be ready for these levels at the same time (or want them); and it always, always opens us up to hurt, pain, disappointment and humiliation.
But here’s home: when the space is open, kinship can also enter and find sanctuary; love can manifest itself in ways it was previously unable to before because that space wasn’t there; and bonds can be tended, pruned, and formed. It’s hard work; it’s terrifying work; but I believe it’s a holy work that is as ancient as life itself.