This Unity of Ancient Belonging

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the 
   secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and 
   renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
   and receive your work.

– 
from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

(Note: This was originally published on The Spirit Creative).

By Margaret Lindsay Barrick

On a day when so many of us wept in the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, I found myself spending hours with two men who have become kindred spirits. On a day when consolation was needed, my soul friends supplied real comfort.

I met Mark five years ago when he became a pastor at the church I serve. I liked him immediately. His humility and humor were refreshing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in need of healing when he entered my life. I was getting over years of church-inflicted trauma. Of powerful voices dismissing the calling and capabilities of women. Of disappointment and disillusionment amplified by religious-based bigotry.

Mark ably weaves grace and love as easily in one-on-one chats as he does in his sermons. Between hearty laughs and meaningful moments of silence, he practices holy listening and authentic presence. Over the years, my friends and I have challenged ourselves to embody such goodness.

Mark and Denise Facepaint

Mark and Denise

Yesterday, amid prayers for those who grieve this latest act of evil, our church bid farewell to our beloved pastor and his dear wife Denise. Mark was recently reassigned, and so they will begin a new chapter apart from us. As the choir sang one last song, Mark and Denise held one another at the altar. My roommate Abigail, a bearer of light and love, came up beside me and rested her delicate hand on my shoulder. We stood in the balcony together, mirroring our friends, and shed tears. We cried over the loss of Mark and Denise. We cried over our slaughtered brothers and sisters. We cried for the hatred that seems all too prevalent.

Later, standing in the empty parking lot, Mark and Denise and I hugged. As we said tearful goodbyes, he reminded me that we were soul friends: one last gift of healing.

The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, dedicated an entire book to the concept of soul friends (anam cara in Gaelic). In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, the philosopher offers:

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship… This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”

When dozens of vibrant lives are cut short, when power-thirsty charlatans heap hate and ignorance on top of the initial violence, when our collective hope is once again dashed, our souls need their cherished friends.

Yesterday evening, as the oppressive heat gave way to a light breeze, I enjoyed the presence of my other soul friend, Thomas. My soul must have something of a split personality. Mark is devout; Thomas doubts. Mark is as wholesome as John Denver or Mister Rogers. Thomas is more of a rock star. Both men epitomize the truth behind O’Donohue’s words:

“The one you love, your anam cara, your soul friend, is the truest mirror to reflect your soul. The honesty and clarity of true friendship also brings out the real contour of your spirit.” 

I’ve never enjoyed looking in the mirror. I’m quick to scrutinize and inflate any perceived flaw. But somehow, in the presence of my soul friends, the mirror doesn’t seem quite as harsh. The reflection, whole and still full of imperfections, is softened by overwhelming, genuine love.

With an abundance of grace, Mark points out the inconsistencies in my life. His gentle questions bring me to a place of self candor. I am a better person because of Mark.

Thomas Thielman

Thomas

And I’m a better person because of Thomas. Though staring down the ugly and hard is difficult, I’d often rather do that than explore the good and beautiful parts of me. Thomas is the one who casts light on what is almost too hard to see. As an artist always ready for the next critique, it’s uncomfortable to sit in the brightness.

I was a student when I met Thomas a dozen years ago. I was in the adjacent pottery class, and I would work almost exclusively at the hand building table so I could overhear his art appreciation lectures. The next semester, I registered for his drawing class. My love of visual art, somehow abandoned in my late teens, returned with a new energy.

Over time, Thomas became a trusted confidant. His search for and appreciation of grace, along with his passionate approach to living, imbue our late night conversations with meaning. We see the best in one another, and we make a point of reminding each other that we both have something worthwhile to give.

It’s been less than two days since the news of the Orlando massacre broke. Already, the loudest and most obnoxious voices are heard above those calling for love. In times like these, what are we to do?

I am reminded that there are alternatives to hiding away or despairing of life. Mark is a pastor; Thomas is an artist. Through their vocations, they offer healing and beauty to a world desperate for both. I feel called to minister through acts of compassion and justice. And I feel called to create and teach art. Because of the influence of my soul friends, I am empowered to work for a better world, using the gifts I have. O’Donohue bids in Anam Cara,

“may the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”

Tonight, my friends and family stood shoulder to shoulder with members of our community. Words of mourning and resilience were shared. Candles were lit. A song was sung, and a bell was struck once for each victim of the Orlando shooting. It was a humble affair, quickly arranged on a downtown square. But in that assembly, the first embers of healing, light, and renewal were sparked.

We have work to do. I hope we find soul friends who remind us of our connection to all of humanity, who urge us to truly see ourselves, who bring out the real contour of our spirits, who share the burden and gift of life together. Perhaps then we’ll be reminded of our shared work of pursuing peace and seeking justice and choosing love.

“If you realize how vital to your whole spirit – and being and character and mind and health – friendship actually is, you will take time for it… [But] for so many of us… we have to be in trouble before we remember what’s essential.”

May we take time to nourish real, soul-deep friendship. May we seek and be soul friends. May we meditate on what we learn. May we urge one another on in love.

© Margaret Lindsay Barrick, 2016.

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