Many people have someone in their life that they consider a closest friend or a confidant in whom they place great trust. For some of us that person is a spouse or a sister or brother, and for some it is not a relative, but a friend who is even closer than a relative. While these are beautiful gifts, the anam cara is different than having a confidant. The anam cara is that, but he or she is much, much more. The anam cara is a soul-friend, a relationship based on deep spiritual connectedness.
St. Brigit of Kildare, Ireland, once said that a person without an anam cara is like a body without a head. Thank God I do not have a headless body!! I am very blessed because I have a wonderful anam cara. In seriousness, the gift of an anam cara is indeed a great gift. It is a difficult concept to define because it goes beyond words; it is a soul relationship. It is not a soul mate, it is a soul friend. Rarely is this person a spouse and most often it is not someone to whom we are related by blood, though it can be. The term anam cara comes from old Gaelic for "soul-friend." As Esther de Waal says, "The relationship existed between men and women, women and women, men and men, cleric and lay. The soul friend was the spiritual guide who helped everyone to find his or her own path." What she goes on to say is very much a description of the relationship I have with mine. She says, "It was true friendship, with warmth and intimacy and honesty, and there is a profound respect for the other's wisdom, despite age or gender differences, as the source of blessing."
Originally the term was for someone to whom you confessed, which was a relationship of intimacy due to the confidential nature of it. The anam cara was indeed someone you trusted deeply. It is still true insofar as the anam cara is "someone with whom you share your innermost self, your mind and your heart." (John O' Donohue) The anam cara is the person with whom you are most yourself and you can share everything, but the most important difference between the anam cara and a best friend is that the relationship is based on, and rooted in, a deep spiritual intimacy. The anam cara is someone with whom you can share the depths of your spiritual life, and when you do, he or she says, "I know." And you know to the core of your being that this person does indeed know!
The anam cara is a prayerful person. This person is indeed a friend of your soul, but the relationship is totally mutual. That is, it is a two way street. What the anam cara is for you, you are for him or her. You are both wisdom figures for each other, not because of book knowledge or education, but because of a deep, shared rootedness in Christ. What makes it such a gift is that we cannot force this relationship. When we meet our anam cara we recognize the relationship. We just know. We recognize the presence of God in that person, and we just "click." Sometimes we are very different types of people. To be anam cara does not mean we agree on everything or that our tastes are the same. It means that when it comes to things spiritual, experiences and understandings, we rarely have to explain to the other because the connection is so deep that we are as one.
John O'Donohue says that the aman cara is a relationship based on the Trinity. He says that "the Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship." This reminds me of the beautiful teaching of St. Augustine who said that the Trinity is the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son and, Spirit which is extended to us. The entire Trinity is based on an intimacy so great we can never understand it; it is beyond human comprehension. But we can experience it in the love of God for us. O'Donohue goes on to say that when Jesus says He calls us friends that He is the anam cara of every individual. "In friendship with him, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity." (page 15, Anam Cara; see below)
Based on what O'Donohue is saying, we all have an anam cara in the friendship we have with Jesus. I could not agree more wholeheartedly. When I teach about this concept, quite often people will say they do not have an anam cara and wish they did. I have two responses for this. The first is that we all have an anam cara in Jesus. God so wants an intimacy with us that we cannot comprehend the longing He has for us! It amazes me when people say they do not have a personal relationship with God. He wants it so very much, but He will never force us. So if you seek a personal relationship with Him, tell Him. Ask and you will receive. I promise: I could not be surer of anything. You already have an Anam Cara in Jesus.
The second response is to say that maybe they simply did not know what or whom they were looking for. We all have an anam cara at some point in our lives. Not only that, but an anam cara is yours forever and that includes after physical death. They remain alive spiritually as they enter Heaven; they are yours forever, whether here on earth or if they have predeceased you. A connection of love, rooted in Christ, can never be broken. Maybe you have not yet met your anam cara or maybe you have a friend who fits this description and you simply did not know that this is what it is. If so, this would be a great time to express it to the other.
My anam cara has blessed my life for many years. She is a gift from God who has encouraged me in many ways. I probably would not be writing a blog if not for her. My anam cara is a wisdom figure for me and will always remain so. We often can be speaking of a spiritual experience, and then eyes fill with tears ("gift of the Holy Spirit" tears), a nodded head, a smile, and the only words possible: "I know. I know." My anam cara is a woman of deep prayer, and therefore, of presence. She has taught me much. I am blessed and enriched by her soul friendship, and deeply humbled by it.
I encourage you to pray about who might be your anam cara. If you know who he or she is, but simply did not have a name for it previously, share this with that person. Remember, you are as much anam cara to the other as the other is to you! I also encourage you to give thanks not only for that person, but for having the best anam cara of them all: God. Whether it be the Father, the Son, or the Spirit to whom you relate best, let God be your anam cara. He so desires that! It would indeed be an incompleteness without having the anam cara you are offered in God. I could not even imagine it. But even better is the completeness we experience when we find that relationship shared with the gift He gives us, which is the person with whom we share our spiritual journey here on earth.
May we realize who our anam cara is and be grateful for such an incredible gift! May we realize that God is the ultimate anam cara and accept the gift of His friendship. May we be moved to deeper prayer and gratitude for all His gifts of love to us. And may we share that love with all we meet, an overflowing of the love that is nurtured through our rootedness in the Trinity. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the perfect Anam Cara, the Lord of Love. Peace!
(This post is dedicated with great love and thanksgiving to my own anam cara, who has made me a little bit Irish!)
Both the photos at the top and to the left are mine. The top photo was taken at Glendalough, Ireland. The photo to the left taken in a church in Adair, Ireland.
The icon above is St. Brigid Abbess of Kildare by Rev. William Hart McNichols. You can find the icon on his website at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=355
I have quoted two books:
The Celtic Way of Prayer, by Esther de Waal. Image Books, Doubleday. 1997
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O'Donohue. Cliff Street Books, 1997.
Heart Speaks to Heart