“Wait for me, wait for me, Maddy!” My daughter Claire often and unashamedly expresses her longing to be immediately beside her best friend and experience their childhood delights together. Claire’s smile, her laughter, and the dance in her eyes is never brighter than when she is with her friend (or perhaps playing with her Daddy). When these two little girls are together, usually in matching ballerina leotards and ridiculously large and frilly hair bows, their appreciation for life- for food, music, toys, pets, nature, family- skyrockets. In their friendship, I see a means of a grace, a way by which their souls are growing in their capacity to connect to their Creator and the joys and work He is laying before them. I realize, too, that friendship throughout my life have been a means of redemption and has greatly increased my capacity for appreciation.
In Psalm 133, I find a reflection of the love between David and Jonathan, two who were “one in spirit” and who sacrificially loved one another:
” How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head…
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.”
In friendship, especially of the deep soul kind, the Lord mysteriously sows His blessing- a blessing that feels like dew falling in the desert and anoints our spirits with a strength to seek and receive the good of life. It is not hard for me to see that the many times of discontent or despair in my life have come when I did not feel I had a genuine friend. In times when I have been overwhelmed by the joy of soul friendship, though, I have been enlivened as my true self steps forward and learns how to seek unity with Christ as I practice and experience unity with the friend beside me.
In an effort to encourage the spring clovers to pop up as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I have explored some of the traits of Celtic anamchara (or soul friendship). One article I found, “Early Celtic Soul Friendship” by Edward Sellner, put forth these 7 features of anamchara:
1. “great affection, intimacy and depth”
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. “share common values, a common vision of reality”
4. “not only affirmation, but the ability of each to challenge the other when necessary”
5. “centered on God, the soul friend in whom all other friendships are united”
6. “survives geographical separation, the passage of time, and death itself.”
7. “appreciate both friendship and solitude as resources ultimately for ‘soulmaking’: the lifelong process of reconciliation, of making peace with oneself, with others, and with all of creation in preparation for one’s own death”
Certainly human brokenness and the separation that comes with it can make such friendship difficult and leave deep pain in our places of weakness. Still, it seems that the beauty of friendship is a significant building block of the Kingdom of God as Sellner writes:
“The ministry of anamchara….also affected the entire history of Christian spirituality, affirming as it did the conviction that a person’s relationship with God can take the form of effective dialogue and that when sins or faults, grief or human vulnerability is openly and honestly acknowledged, healing begins and God’s presence is experienced, sometimes unforgettably…”
And there is always one who calls and even longs for our friendship, who washes our dirty feet, grieves over our wounds, and rejoices over our triumphs:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you…” (John 15:13-15)
Many times it has only been in the beautiful face of a friend that I have been able to find a glimmer of hope or a spark of appreciation. Perhaps it is because I have been so undeservedly appreciated in their eyes, both a means and a foretaste of God’s redemption.