More about Soul Friends

Grace Sheppard recommends Soul Friends.

She says in this session’s quotation that she decided to ‘look for someone’ to fill this role. It may be obvious to you that there is among those who are already your friend, someone you could easily come to regard in this new way and who would be happy to offer that kind of friendship. But you may need, or prefer, to seek someone new to become your confidante in this way.

Another name for a soul friend is spiritual guide or spiritual director. The ‘director’ bit makes this role sound very different from ‘friend’ but these days, listening is the key, not direction, though they may make the odd suggestion.  The ‘spiritual’ bit too may suggest that only conversation about religious matters is allowed. You’ll need to check this out with anyone you might be considering asking to be your ‘friend’ but the great majority of spiritual guides expect to share with you from the whole of your life.

The Retreat Association has a helpful description of what a spiritual director is and can help you find one.

The Spiritual Direction Network (SPIDIR) also has a useful description of how it works and is useful especially if you live in London or the Home Counties.

A more modern interpretation of  spiritual friendship or, in gaelic, Anam Cara, is in John O’Donoghue’s wonderful book of the same name. He says:

May you be blessed with good friends. May you learn to be a good friend to 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 cara.

The idea of soul friends has its roots in very early Christianity. In the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, there was a movement of Christians into the desert. They began to live alone as hermits or together in communities and eventually became valued as teachers of prayer and as therapists healing spiritual diseases.

These Desert Father and Mothers loved solitude. But there is also much evidence of the warmth, love, respect, and genuine affection the early desert Christians felt for each other. They embrace each other warmly on meeting and before they depart.  They discuss the spiritual progress that each is attempting to make and their daily work and, at least once a week, celebrate Eucharist together. Most of all, they call each other friends and root that friendship in Jesus’ name and memory. As one of them, Abba Theodore, says so poignantly, “Let us each give his heart to the other, carrying the Cross of Christ”.