Soul Friendship

Edward Sellner reflects on the anam ċara or “soul friend.”
Part I

Early Celtic Monasticism

Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head: is like the water of a polluted lake, neither good for drinking nor for washing. That is the person without a soul friend.

“Christian Celts believed that soul friends were crucial to human sustenance and spiritual growth, and that such mentoring relationships were ultimately related to friendship with God.”

The Desert Fathers and Mothers

The Desert Elders teach us that deep appreciation for friendship and a love of solitude need not contradict one another: Abba Theodore taught, “Let us each give his heart to the other, carrying the Cross of Christ.”

Sellner continues: “It is this capacity for deep friendships that attracted others to them, giving them the courage to open their hearts and confess their most secret sins. This capacity for friendship and ability to read other people’s hearts became the basis of the desert elders’ effectiveness as spiritual guides.”

He contends the possibility of the Greek Orthodox concept of the syncellus, “the one who shares a cell,” may be related to cell-sharing in the early desert monastic communities. “To share one’s cell with a soul friend then, is to share one’s inmost self, ones life, one’s mind and heart. . . . This bond between friends . . . is indissoluble.”

Part II

Part II promised to address the “druids and druidesses who made their own unique and lasting contribution to the development of the anamchara relationship.” Unfortunately, this part of the article appears no longer to be available.

Part III

Early Celtic Soul Friendship

The early Celtic vision of soul friendship included at least seven characteristics:

  1. Great affection, intimacy and depth: “Soul friends share what the Greeks and Romans, as well as early church Fathers and Mothers, equate with true friendship itself: one soul in two bodies, two hearts united as one.”
  2. Mutuality: “A profound respect for each other’s wisdom, despite any age or gender difference, and the awareness that the other person is a source of many blessings.”
  3. Common values: “A common vision of reality, and, sometimes, an intuitive sense of the potential leadership of younger proteges.”
  4. Affirmation and challenge: “Soul friendships include not only affirmation, but the ability of each to challenge the other when necessary.”
  5. Centered on God: “God [is] the soul friend in whom all other friendships are united.”
  6. Eternality: Soul friendship “survives geographical separation, the passage of time, and death itself.”
  7. Agent of “soulmaking”: Soulmaking is “the lifelong process of reconciliation, of making peace with oneself, with others, and with all of creation in preparation for one’s own death.”

It seems to me that to build any kind of relationship on these characteristics is to build on a solid foundation indeed.

True soul friends do not depend on each other alone, but root their relationship in God.


Sellner’s writing has added to my list of models of seriously committed celibate relationships:


Sellner appears to have expanded his thoughts on the the anam ċara into a book-length treatment in The Celtic Soul Friend: A Trusted Guide for Today.


Updated 5 April 2018: Added godparenting to the list of models of seriously committed celibate relationships.

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