Anam Cara – this is a beautiful Gaelic term which means soul friend. In soul friendship, we witness another, and we are seen by the other. I’ve been reflecting on the powerful gifts of soul friendship in my life and how this is a transformative experience. To be seen and to see. In the work that I am privileged to do, I listen to a lot of people’s stories. And there is a common thread in many stories that I hear which has been affirmed by the surgeon general regarding a common health condition seen in our times; a depth of loneliness that is prevalent in our homes, society, and culture.
Many are lonely. Many don’t feel seen, known, loved. There is a widespread sense of disconnection. Perhaps this disconnection also attributes to the tendency to project on to others a sense of separation, labels, and pain. We can easily lose sight of the humanity of the other. In our own pain and anguish, we can demonize the ‘other’, and in doing so, increase our separation from one another.
Henri Nouwen has written extensively on the topic of loneliness and one of the pieces of wisdom that he offers that I return to again and again is that we are invited to take our loneliness and turn it into a ‘garden of solitude’. (from the book, Reaching Out) We are first of all invited to be an ‘anam cara’ to our own being. We are invited to be attentive to our lives, not in a selfish, self-absorbed way, but in a way of dignity, self-respect, and honouring the preciousness of our own lives. This helps us to listen to what is happening in our internal landscape. If we don’t attend to our internal landscape, we tend to project our unfinished business on to others. In this way, self-care is about taking responsibility for our interior lives so that we may live with greater integrity with others.
Becoming an anam cara to one’s self ultimately becomes a gift to the community as we are able to move from a place of interior freedom and devotion, rather than need or projection. Developing an interior garden allows a welcoming space where another can come and be refreshed and restored simply by being in your presence. When we experience being seen and witnessed by another, we experience a sense of connection, community, grace, and kindness.
To share in an ‘anam cara’ moment with another is a grace, a gift, a wonder of life. These moments are a rich and profound blessing when we can meet the soul of another and witness the beauty and richness they carry. Sometimes these are short encounters with a stranger at the grocery store and sometimes they are with a beloved one has known for a long time. These are moments of transparency, of light, warmth, and hope.
When we feel lonely within, we may be looking for another to see us, to recognize us. But being an ‘anam cara’ in the world, is to know this reality within and to offer this gift to the world around us, not to expect it from another. We are meant to know a deep inner friendship of soul that creates a sense of rootedness and ease. This sense of connection with our soul flows within when we open to the Mystery of Love at the heart of Creation, the heart of the Universe, the Source of all. When we feel connected within, we live from a place of belonging and are able to extend this sense of belonging to those around us. This is healing. This is love.
I’m reminded of the song from the Taize community; “ubi caritas, et amour, ubi caritas, deus ibi est” These Latin words describe a reality about love – where there is true love, unconditional love, this is where God, the Living Presence, dwells.
Our world is experiencing suffering, especially in the Middle East at this particular moment. My heart rips open as I hear and witness the destruction of life, the demolition of safety. There is such heartache.The suffering we are hearing about is immense and perhaps there is no adequate response except grief at the great loss and pain being experienced by many. In the face of such suffering, the question always arises, what is mine to do? I’m reminded of the quote by Ghandi, to “be the change we wish to see in the world”. And what is this change we wish for? Could it be for us to witness one another as ‘anam cara’, friend? In our day to day world, is there a practical thing we can each do to be an ‘anam cara’ to another? At the grocery store, with our families, with someone in need?
May we find ways to heal and restore a place of friendship in our own lives.
May we discover ways to see one another with clear eyes of love.
May we discover how to be presences of healing and grace in this world.
Here are the lyrics from the song, That We Might Radiate Love. This is my prayer for us all:
As we fall into remembering, as we open up to wonder, as we gaze upon the beauty in this place … let our hearts receive the truth of our being, that we might radiate Love
As we yield into the mystery, as we ponder the unfolding, as we lift our voices singing here and now … let our hearts receive the truth of our being, that we might radiate Love
As we root in holy darkness, as we expand into the light, as we flow with the eternal in our soul … let our hearts receive the truth of our being, let our hearts receive, let our hearts receive, let our hearts receive
As we look to one another, as we see our own true face, as we look to all creation as a whole … let our hearts receive the truth of our being, that we might radiate Love.
(as recorded on the album: Unfinished Song)