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Linda Irene

Anam Cara of the Thin Place

The thin place is what the Celtic Christians refer to as a space, or a reality even, between heaven and earth, where the veil is so thin between the two that we are in each other. They believe there are physical places that exist like this. I like to think this is true. Mainly because I distinctly recall places that I experienced to be just like this. I especially felt this in the highlands on the road to the Isle of Skye in Scotland - and on the island itself. But I digress.

The early Celtic Christians called a person who acted as a spiritual sponsor, to borrow a 12 step term, to be a support or encourager. They called it anam cara, which means "soul friend." It was their belief that an anam cara was sent by God and crucial to growing spiritually. It sounds so much like a 12-step sponsor.

The point was this person was close enough to you that she could speak truth to you. There was nothing hidden. It was someone you could trust to tell you the truth, and even help you reveal your blind spots. St. Brigit, the the 5th century Celtic saint and mystic said, "Anyone without a soul friend is like having a body without a head."

Clearly, St. Brigit's statement indicates this was very important to the spiritual journey of the Celts, which infers that they valued relationships, honest friendship in particular. They understood that we can't see ourselves alone, and the only way to get an honest glimpse of who we are and who we are becoming is by having another human being who can act as a mirror.

I recently read a post by David of urban Skye, who emphasized the importance of Mary and Elizabeth's friendship was to Mary in the gospel story when she learned she was pregnant. This illustration of confiding in another and trusting someone with information that would certainly cause vulnerability or shame, is a powerful example of friendship. But it demonstrates another powerful need of all human beings in vulnerable or frightening cirucumstances - particularly unfamiliar situations, ones in which you're the only one you're aware of who has traveled the path you're headed on.

Elizabeth was there when Mary desperately needed validation. This is what a soul friend, an Anam Cara, can be. They are there to listen. To our dreams and our secrets. To our testimony and our confession. This is exactly what a sponsor does in AA's 12 step program.

We need to be validated.

Validation is not the same thing as respected, loved, or agreed with. It is a simple, yet powerful, act of kindness that takes the form of listening, understanding, and standing with - as in being in the trenches with. It is someone beside you.

If you have someone in your life that you can trust with your deepest secrets, your greatest fears, or your wildest dreams, you are blessed. If you don't, go find them now.

Be bold and create an environment that supports it. Or look around you and sense with your intuition who is in your life that you think could be this kind of friend.

Then ask them. AA suggests we find a sponsor, or an Anam Cara of the same gender to avoid any unintended consequences. The emotional nature of a relationship like this can lead us to places we don't intend, and the best way to avoid it is to avoid it. That said, if you're gay, choose the opposite gender for obvious reasons.

If you are keeping something deep inside and have never shared it with a soul, or living with doubts about yourself or getting results you don't want in your life, an Anam Cara might be the answer. Trusted friendship is a valuable and blessed gift that heals us when we show up in it honestly and willingly.

Go find your Anam Cara, and let your secrets out. It's said in AA that we're only as sick as our secrets. The first time I heard tht expression, it sounded extreme and weird actually. But the more I witnessed the shame people internalize in their lives for countless reasons, often self-imposed, this statement came alive. Shame and secrets eat away at us, and become bigger than they deserve. Let them go...to a trusted friend you choose for this unique role in your life. In a sense, they are your minister, your healer.

In no time, you will also be someone's Anam Cara and pass it on...maybe you'll start a trend in your community that transforms relationships one person at a time. That's what discipleship is all about. And certainly what true friendship is born of. I can't think of a better way to follow Christ's command to love one another than by telling each other our truth.

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