Soul Friends

Michelle Hofer is a commission artist who also enjoys writing and speaking about the intersection of art and faith. She lives in Freeman, South Dakota, with her husband Colin and children, Madeline and Claire, and serves as the artist-in-residence at Hutterthal Mennonite Church.

I took part in a spiritual pilgrimage in June 2016 where participants were invited to spend time alone and in solitude focusing our thoughts on a given theme. One of those days, we focused on the companions and friends on the journey of our lives, naming these people, praying for them, reflecting on the circles of community to which we belong and the relationships within these. Lastly, we were to listen for God’s call to friendship. It was an enriching day of pausing to look carefully at the relationships I have with others.

In the Celtic Christian tradition, there exists the practice of the soul friend, known in Gaelic as the anam cara.

In such a friendship, individuals open their hearts and minds to one another, receiving encouragement, challenge and healing.

Believers were encouraged to find another person with whom they could bare their soul, make confession, receive advisement and be held accountable. It did not matter who this person was or how you might be connected as long as such a friendship existed in one’s life.

One person in my life whom I consider a soul friend is my spiritual director. Years ago, I attended a conference for Mennonite artists in Laurelville, Pennsylvania. I was surprised to hear many artists express the importance of having a spiritual director. A spiritual director is someone with whom you meet regularly in order to deepen your relationship with God and learn and grow in discernment and maturity as a believer. So not long after returning from that conference, I began researching where I might find such a person. A call to a nearby monastery put me in contact with one of the nuns there who was open to direct persons of non-Catholic faith traditions. We connected right away and have found we are kindred spirits on many levels.

For the past eight years, I have met with my director for a one-two hour session monthly. At first I found this new practice a bit overwhelming. It was an adjustment to have someone ask deep and personal questions about my life. Of course you only need share what you are comfortable sharing, but if a question is not answered to the spiritual director, then the assignment is to discuss it directly with God. This practice has stretched and challenged me in vital ways.

I have learned much about myself and about God, and have learned to better listen to God and others and to discern what God is saying to me.

It has pushed me to be honest with God as nothing is hidden from Him. It has challenged me to dig deep, discover underlying feelings and beliefs and explore my initial reactions to life’s circumstances. I am able to better view my own life and see the presence of God in all things, good or bad. I have grown as an artist and have found ease in exploring and expressing myself through my creative gifts.

Together, my spiritual director and I also work to identify sin habits and move towards transformation and healing. I also have explored the tendencies of my personality through the Enneagram, a personality trait identification system. This has been extremely helpful. I truly understand myself better than I ever thought I could. I can learn how to support and encourage myself and how to love myself, which then allows me to love others in similar ways and with similar understanding and patience.

Do you have such a person in your life? If you do not find someone coming to mind, then I suggest you take the advice given by contemporary Celtic Christian author, John O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara:

Many people have an anam cara of whom they are not truly aware … It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition. Inspired by awareness, you may then discover beside you the anam cara of whom your longing has always dreamed.