We all like to hear stories about how two people met. We listen around the dinner table or watch on the big screen movies like “How Harry met Sally” and it makes us feel good, comforted in the way that only something life affirming can do. We are reminded too of our own stories of “coincidence”, chance encounters when we met our love of 50 years, or our oldest and dearest friends, or those whose time with us was short but whose impact on our lives was great. These are our own anam cara, our soul friends.
In the Celtic tradition, this is the beautiful notion of divinely bestowed love and friendship. It is the idea of soul-love. An old Gaelic term, anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. In the early Celtic church, it originally referred to someone who you revealed the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara, you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart.
Celtic wisdom deems that you cannot manufacture or achieve this kind of love or friendship by a sheer act of the will or even by intention. It is simply the act of recognition.
Whether it be a meeting on the street or a banal introduction, there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient belonging. The Celts believe this to be an eternal connection.
Ancient Irish lore metaphorically speaks of anam caras rising from the same pre-historic clay. The clay shapes, once part of a whole were separated, lost in the creation of the world, and are searching for their related pieces. The allegory pointing to a larger reality, a conscious break from the overly-analytical nature prevalent in today’s world and an entering into the realm of mystery.
The recent resurgence of Celtic spirituality reflects this growing ache for more sublime, more Real (with a capital R) notions of intimacy and relationship than our current neon culture provides. Everybody, it seems, is always talking incessantly about relationships. Even Yahoo has a category for relationships on its home page, as if you could get your fix alongside the weather report and the latest entertainment news. All this overcooked verbage that ladens the media gives an illusion that even love is a consumer item, something that can be acquired.
The temptation is to be more concerned with what you have and who you should be and who you should be with. It often overshadows the more important how you should be. The stance of open-hearted faith and gentleness that opens the door to real intimacy which at its best is a sacred experience. You must be ready to receive it.
In everyone’s life, there is a great need for an anam cara. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. A precious understanding dawns so that you feel really understood. You feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. As Pablo Neruda perfectly describes, “You are like nobody since I love you”.
John O’Donohue asserts the grace of an anam cara: “The greatest gift new love brings into your life is the awakening to the hidden love within. This make you independent. You are now able to come close to the other, not out of need or with the wearying apparatus of projection, but out of genuine intimacy, affinity, and belonging. It is a freedom. Love should make you free. You become free of the hungry, blistering need with which you continually reach out to scrape affirmation, respect, and significance for yourself from things and people outside yourself. To be holy is to come home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul“.
You do not have to DO anything. You just have to BE ready.