Transforming Relationships: Spiritual Friendship (Bruce Epperly)
What role does Christ play in our own relationships with one another? Is there a deeper spiritual relationship that connects our spirits with each other? Bruce Epperly explores these and other questions through the lens of Celtic spirituality, using the Celtic concept of anam cara or soul friend. May we find union with one another through Christ, our soul friend. Read, enjoy, respond.
Transforming Relationships: Spiritual Friendship
Bruce G. Epperly
Celtic spirituality views life as a process of dynamic and evolving relationships. Our lives emerge from our environment and shape the world beyond ourselves. As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead asserts, the whole universe conspires to create each occasion of experience. While, as Whitehead also notes, religion begins with solitariness, our spiritual growth is nurtured by creative and loving relationships, persons whose care mirrors our spirits and enables them to grow. The Celts spoke of anam cara, spiritual friend or soul friend, as essential to the spiritual adventure.
St. Brigid, the feminine spirit of Celtic Christianity, is reputed to have said that “a person without an anam cara is like body without a soul.” The Celts believed that spiritual relationships awaken us to our fullest potential. Originating from the image of “one who shares a cell,” the Celtic vision of the anam cara evolved to become “one who shares a soul.” Our anam cara is our soul friend, the person who shows us the mirror of God in our own lives.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates suggests that each person has an eternal mirror. Children of the same god, to use Plato’s language, or soul friends, mediate to one another the essential wholeness and beauty that joins their spirits. Whether the anam cara is of the same or other gender, they are your “other soul,” the embodiment of your spiritual pilgrimage in the unique life of another. When you discover the one you know as anam cara, you have a sense that you are one in spirit, connected by a deep awareness, and that you no longer have to explain yourself or apologize for who you are. You are known, loved, and accepted without condition. Though soul friends have their own unique voice, they share a common spiritual melody.
In the Celtic tradition, Christ was known as the perfect anam cara. Christ is the intimate companion, whose love enables us fully to love the self we are becoming. Christ mirrors our deepest yearnings and brings them to wholeness. Christ as anam cara reveals to each soul its greatness. In experiencing the Christ as anam cara, we discover our true destiny as fully human embodiments of the divine wisdom. Christ is constantly knocking on the door of our souls and our lives are transformed when we say “yes” to his invitation.
Our human anam cara is our own personal Christ-figure, and the nearest thing to divine revelation in everyday experience. In knowing and being known, the Divine Eros gives life to both friends. Passionate in its mirroring and support, anam cara is, in the spirit of Plato’s Phaedrus, a friendship that enables us to grow wings and fly to the heavens. As the mirror of Christ, the human anam cara inspires and lures us toward adventures of creativity and self-awareness. The Christ in us grows wings and flies.
Passionate without possessiveness, anam cara frees us to be fully ourselves in a holy relationship, which serves as the catalyst for the healing and transformation of all our relationships. In its greenness, it restores our spirits and gives us new life.
Your anam cara, or spirit friend, may be your husband, wife, or friend of the same or other gender. Regardless of the social relationship, the vocation of anam cara is to promote beauty and love in the world. Anam cara has as its mission service to all creation and transformation both of ourselves and the planet. In seeing the Eternal Beauty in another, our eyes are opened to beauty in all things. From that personal vision of beauty, we are inspired to be seek shalom and wholeness in our relationships and corporate lives.
As a holy and green relationship, anam cara compels each soul friend to aim at the highest ethical and spiritual values. Holy friendships, such as anam cara, enhance our marriages, parenting, and creativity, when it is lived out as the meeting of divine centers whose fullest expression does not necessitate physical proximity or sexual union. It neither “toils nor spins,” nor competes with other relationships, but heals everything it touches. Anam cara inspires the muse within us to create freely and with abandon, whether poetry, sermons, books, music, or tales told at bedtime. Whether or not anam cara is joined with marriage, its embodiment is chaste and holy. Anam cara as holy relatedness vows to bring out the beauty in the other and to nurture the wingspan of the beloved friend in her or his context. The Divine Eros incarnate in anam cara friendships creates an environment that nurtures spiritual and creative quantum leaps.
According to certain strands of early Christianity, Christ reveals himself uniquely to each person. There are as many revelations of Christ as there are persons. The anam cara, embodying the Christ we share with another, is the image of God whose eyes stare deeply into our own and show us our true self. In knowing and nurturing the soul of another, our own souls grow in stature and soar. (This essay is adapted from The Center is Everywhere: CelticSpirituality for the Postmodern Age, Parson’s Porch Books, 2011.)
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.