In the ancient Celtic tradition, monasteries were referred to as muinntir, which means people. The reason laid in the importance that was placed on community. One such way in emphasising this was that every person in each community had what was known as an Anam Cara or Soul Friend. When a person had a soul friend they shared an almost sacred bond. The bond was on a soul level which meant always accepting one another unconditionally, therefore based on love. Within this bond, the two soul friends can share how they were growing spiritually and counsel each other. An Anam Cara wasn’t one of any specific status. They could be anyone in the community…clergy or non-clergy.
I have been fascinated with the idea of an Anam Cara ever since I read John O’Donahue’s book Anam Cara Spiritual Wisdom From The Celtic World some years ago. It seems to me that soul friends can be thought of in different contexts. This series will explore the different aspects of a soul friend and how we can apply this idea in different areas of our lives such as community, marriage or partnerships, family and friendships.
When we talk about soul friends, we are talking about a spiritual connection, therefore a soul friend is not someone who is assigned to someone else. It is both natural and supernatural and can never be forced. I don’t know what the Celtic communities did in order to ensure that each person had an Anam Cara but from the little I know about their ideas and way of live, I cannot imagine that they pulled names out of a hat and assigned someone to each person. The Celtics thought that having an Anam Cara was a sacred blessing.
In order for anyone to have an Anam Cara or be one to others, one has to first be in a place of self-acceptance. If you do not accept and/or respect who you are, you will not be able to receive love from others. You will be suspicious of anyone who shows an interest if you do not believe you are interesting or lovable. You will also not be able to open up to anyone if you feel you have something you are ashamed of. In order to have a soul friend in your life you need to be authentic. If you aren’t authentic, then neither will your relationships be. In order to love unconditionally, you need to have a fountain of love within yourself. Love, like water is energy. It needs to flow. Love is also magnetic. The more you give, the more love will come to you. John O’Donahue says in Anam Cara, “…love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love you grow and come home to yourself. When you learn to love and let yourself be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit.” When we begin to be at home within our own spirit, we begin to feel safe and tranquil of spirit. This tranquillity, when nurtured transcends into joy. Joy transcends into love. Love needs a direction. It needs to flow within and without but there needs to be a balance. If you give a tremendous amount of love to others, but not to yourself, you risk starving your soul and therefore deplete what love you have to give to others. Love does not follow a linear path. It is more like the symbol of infinity
It needs to be continuously cultivated within and without. Once you have a well-spring of love within you, it cannot be contained. It will bursts out of you like a powerful geyser of light. Where the supernatural ability transpires in love is in the ability to see the sacred and unique individuality of the person you are loving. You see…and often recognize their soul. This is bigger and more meaningful than you may realize. On the surface, we are not perfect. We all know this. We often beat ourselves up when we make mistakes or social blunders. Usually, no one sees our real selves…our souls. We alone (aside from God) are the only ones who know ourselves deeply…and sometimes perhaps we don’t. Can you imagine, what it is like to be on the receiving end of someone who truly sees you …and loves you? THAT is soul love. That is the love of an Anam Cara.
Bibliography and recommendations:
Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom From The Celtic World by John O’Donahue
Restoring The Woven Cord: Strands Of Celtic Christianity For The Church Today by Michael Mitton
Celtic Illustrations: A Prayer Journal by Andy Raine