Anam-chara (pronounced “ahn-im-KAR-uh”) is an Irish word meaning “soul friend.” Anam means “soul” or “spirit,” while chara means “friend.” Anam-chara is one of the important tenants of Celtic Spirituality. The development of Celtic Spirituality was largely influenced by the early Desert Fathers in the Christian tradition. Desert Fathers valued the solitary life but recognized the importance of spiritual friendships.
This friend might be a coach, a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual director that one feels comfortable enough to open one’s heart and shared the vulnerability of one’s life. This defines my mutual love for one another (not necessarily a romantic love). An Irish writer and poet, John O D’onoghue in his book ‘Anam-Chara’: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’ (1997) believed that ‘love alone can awaken what is divine within you. He later suggests that Jesus is every person’s “secret Anam-Chara.”
My Personal Anam-Charas
I have been fortunate enough to have Jesus present himself to me through many Anam-Charas over the years. When I was a teenager struggling with identity and a growing drug problem I found me first spiritual friend in the form of a sponsor in N.A. His name was Troy and he walked the walked. Troy would regularly tell me that he loved me enough to tell me the truth, even if it hurt. He said his job was to lift me up when I’m down and to knock me down when I was up. He would not hesitate to call on my BS but would just as quickly give me a grace-filled hug when I was downcast.
As a young single father with a toddler, it was the old sage-like Art that became my Anam-Chara. He taught me what it meant to be a father and how The Father loved me and all of us. He mentored me and loved me and taught me that I had intrinsic worth. Art is in his 80s now and continues to pour into the lives of young men. I would not be who I am today without the presence of Art in my life.
Then there was Tim. Tim was the first person that saw my spiritual gifts and challenged me to use them for kingdom purposes. He threw me in the deep end of the pool and taught me how to swim. Tim nurtured the insecure leader in me and taught me how to lead others in the kingdom. He saw my gifts of mercy and teaching and pushed me to be contagious as I expressed my love for those on the fringe of society. I would not be involved in the church today if it weren’t for Tim.
Then there was Jim. Jim was the pastor that married my wife and me. He and his wife were Navigators so we were involved in a discipleship relationship that God used to give me a hunger for the Word of God and desire to live a devotional life that challenged me to be conformed to the image of Christ. Jim and Deb are still a large part of our lives today and they are just a call, Skype, or Facebook message away and they still influence how we grow and express our faith.
Then there was Jeremy, Brian, Kirk, and Jeff. These were my bros and we all got clean (sober) together at teenagers. We lived miserable adolescent lives and when we all connected with each other we felt like we had found other survivors on a deserted island. We spent every waking moment together those first few years. There was serious solidarity and yet a spirit of playfulness. I don’t know how I would have made it through those years without them. Our lives have become busy today. We are scattered across the state and country. We all have grown up lives with kids and jobs and the like but on those rare occasions when we do get together we are transported back in time. What a joy it was and is when one can be his most honest self around others. To not have to play any of the roles we play in our daily lives without fear of judgment is a huge blessing! This is so good for the soul. When I’m with them I don’t have to be a father, a husband, a co-worker, a youth pastor, a counselor, etc, etc, etc…I can just be the mess that is me; the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have laughed, cried, fought and shared every human emotion possible (usually around a bonfire in Jeremy’s backyard) and are still connected after all these years by those experiences.
Who are your Anam-Charas?
Do you have these kinds of spiritual friends? Those that will go with you anywhere you go in your journey? Do you walk alongside them in their journey? Too often in ministry, we neglect the importance of friendship. We get bogged down with the demands of ministry and that is often the first to fall off the table.
If you can, stop what you’re doing and call your friend. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them that they matter and that your life would be less full without their presence.
A Friendship Blessing
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, feeling and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant or cold in you.
May you be brought into the real passion, kinship and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them; may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated, but may you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam-chara.
Anam-chara; Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World.
(John O’Donoghue. Bantam Press, London.1997)
CHRIS SCHAFFNER is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.