“God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Ever felt invisible in a crowd?
Ever felt like you have learned to be lonely?
Ever felt a deep ache in your soul longing for a smile from a friend or an embrace?
Whether we admit it or not, we all have an ache for friendship. Despite trying not to look needy, we feel an ache when the stillness and silence of an empty room screams a created desire.
Each of us are created for connection. It is more than a cyber connection. It is a connection of soul to soul. It can only be compared to a connection of a family. It can be illustrated by how our various body parts are connected to each other. We desire the same connection to another human being.
Yet, we have lost this connection. We exchange a WIFI connection for a human connection. We trade the connection of souls for a connection of Facebook facades. We have churches filled with small groups and people, yet our smiles hide a disenchantment. We try to band-aid a God-given desire with religion. “I will never be alone if I have Jesus.” While that is true, it still does not satisfy what God has created.
We need our Anam Cara
The Lost Story of Friendship
Usually, we see the story of Jesus healing this paralyzed man as just a miracle. Yes, it shows Jesus in his glory as the Son of Man with the authority to heal and to forgive sins. Can I get an Amen? Yet, we miss something.
In days of Jesus, those who were disabled were considered an outcast. The disabled were a part of the “unclean.” Unable to go into the temple, unable to hold a job, the unclean really were disabled physically and socially. As a result, emotional disability infected their soul. Yet, this man had friends who never left him. Paralyzed and confined to a mat, this man could only beg and depend on others. I am guessing he thought himself a burden.
Did these friends view him as such? They removed a roof for their friend. They loved him so much. Their souls were connected. No one who isn’t connected at the soul would carry the weight of a human body, remove a tile roof, then lower a limp body down to the ground in the Israeli heat. But, this is exactly what happened.
What is surprising in this story is the idea to go to Jesus did not come from the paralyzed man. It came from his friends. “Seeing their faith (Luke 5:20),” Jesus forgives and heals the paralyzed man. Nothing was given to the others. This wasn’t The Wizard of Oz where everyone got something. These unknown friends knew their friend needed Jesus for his own good. That love and compassion sparked an action.
They were his Anam Cara.
Called To Connect
We all agree we feel that ache. Then, why do we say all we need is Jesus? Yes, it is true we need Jesus. But what was Jesus’ command to us? Jesus calls us to love one another. Throughout every New Testament book, the theme of loving each other pops out. It cannot be avoided. Have we avoided this theme because we would rather focus on the lists in Scripture so we can boast our spiritual image?
Being called to love is being called to connect. In order to show genuine love we have to connect with another soul. Kindness only goes so far. Love runs deeper. It covers a multitude of sins, it shows genuine affection, it never gives up, it is gracious, it bears burdens, and it is the heart beat of our Savior.
The friends of the paralyzed man were his soul friends. They loved him deeply. They bore his limp body to Jesus, and by their faith he was healed.
We are called to connect in the same way. We are to have soul friends. It is beyond a Facebook connection (even if it starts there). Soul friends bring each other to Jesus and love each other as Jesus did. They are not afraid of the difficult, the ugly, or the offensive in our lives. Instead, they sit at our table and allow us to lean against their chest. They share a meal with us as a public symbol of claiming association and friendship. They are not afraid to touch when we are untouchable. They are the living letters of Jesus.
Yet, why do we ignore this calling? Is it because we are scared of earthly labels and cutting critiques of our love for each other? Jesus received that. We are not greater than our master. So, we should continue to connect and love.
The Enchantment of Friends
I remember when I connected the first time with a guy who is now my older brother. We were at his place for Thanksgiving. He and I shared our stories as our wives went out Black Friday Shopping. The next day as we said our goodbyes, and he hugged me. Suddenly, tears streamed down my face. He and I connected and he loved me like Jesus. The side we mask was revealed and all I could do was cry. He saw me and brought me to Jesus for healing. I don’t see him as much as I would like, but that connection never fades even when doubts arise.
There is one friend I have who is a father to me. I still remember the first time he hugged me. It was in that moment I felt accepted, wanted, and loved. He knew all my faults, he has felt my verbal lashes, he has received many apologies, and yet he never kicks me to the curb. He always tells me he is proud of me. His love points me to Jesus even when my difficult and ugly comes out.
Two friends I may not see often, but they are my soul friends. Why are they my soul friends? They love me like Jesus. They bring me to Jesus. With their friendship comes an enchantment. I am not talking about a puppy love or anything like that. It is a magic that comes from outside of us that brings us to Jesus. And guess what? They allow me the space to love on them the same way.
In friendship comes a mystery of faith. We see the love of Jesus in each other. We begin to genuinely show affection for each other. The enchantment of friends brings love, not just kindness. When that enchantment is planted in our soul, we begin to see the mystery of the love of God in real life. If all we needed was Jesus, then why are there so many commands to love, to show affection, and longings to see each other throughout the New Testament? It is in the eyes, in the mouths, and in the souls of others we experience the enchantment of God’s love and the mystery of the Gospel of unconditional love.
Our Anam Cara
In the Celtic Christian tradition, we get this phrase: Anam Cara. It literally means, “soul friend.” They found the beauty and love of Jesus in others. It wasn’t some one-way relationship. Instead, it was a brotherhood. It was something we have lost.
In our days of Facebook facades and shallow snaps, we have made relationships one-way. We allow people to follow us and message us as long as they fulfill the image we want. If their ugly or difficulties come out, we block and no longer follow. Our friendships become how good will that person make me look on social media. What would Jesus say? The Savior labeled as the friend of sinners wasn’t concerned about image. His concern was showing God’s love to each other. He then command us to love each other. This means a two-way relationship. We love and allow others to love us.
When we have that love for one another, we connect at the soul level and become soul friends. We become Anam Cara with each other.
Richard Beck, in Hunting Magic Eels, writes about Saint Patrick (The greatest Celtic Christian) and soul friends in this manner – “When Patrick prays ‘Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ to the left of me,’ that presence comes mostly through our soul friends, the people blocking for us, watching our backs, and holding our hands. Enchantment comes to us through other human beings.”
Holding hands? Yes, why not? Jesus said to love each other. Jesus tells us to show genuine affection for each other. Stop letting the cutting critiques of others define and box in our Christ-like love for others.
Our “Christian culture” would prefer us to point people to Jesus by saying the worst Christian cliche ever: I’ll be praying for you. In saying those words, we fall into the description of James 2:15-16. Our faith has a lot of words, but no actions. The actions James describes are not standards and lists. Instead, they are acts of love toward each other. What if someone just needs you to hold their hand, hug them, or (heaven forbid) greet them with a holy kiss? Soul friends are willing to give up an image in order to love and see their friend healed by Jesus than worry about what the Pharisees say. Our connection and love goes further by even the terms we use: brother, father, child, son, daughter, etc. These are used throughout the New Testament to ascribe that soul friend love.
We are commanded to love each other in this way. The world will know we are Christ’s disciples by the way we love. It is not the love of a kind heart. It is the love of an Anam Cara.