Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pentecost 5 B

Anam Cara – Soul Friend


A friendship Blessing

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 in to 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.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your
anam cara (soul friend).
~ John O’Donohue

Although we have one word for the love, the ancient languages always distinguished between the different types. In fact, in Greek there are four words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.

Agape is unconditional type of love, what you should be saying when you say “I love you.” Eros, from which the word erotic is derived is all about the passion, while Storge is strong affection like that felt between a parent and a child for example.

Today though, I want to talk about Philia, the virtuous form of love we feel for each other and all humanity. You actually know this word, you probably just did not realize it was an actual Greek term. The city of Philadelphia is actually the Greek word for “City of Brotherly Love.”

So on with Canada Day, Civic Pride, and God’s calling…

David’s Love

If you just read this, you miss a very important piece of the puzzle. Saul was the first ever king of Israel, 

David and Jonathon were friends, but Saul was his enemy. In fact, they were at war, this little funeral sermon we are reading is actually the guy who just overthrew the king, telling the people what a great guy the King was.

This was not just the fact that David liked Saul’s son. The whole story plays out like that – two adversaries who used to be friends, trying to do what they believe is right for their country. And when one dies, even though the other wins, there is sadness.

Can we do that? Is this brotherly love thing so deep in our bones that we can recognize what is best and celebrate the people we disagree with?

I like to believe it is…. I was heartened when Jack Leighton died, and every single one of his enemies, from Stephen Harper, through Chretien and the rest all had nothing but positive things to say about him.

But these are all pretty massive examples, and they are everywhere… Mahatma Ghandi forgiving the man who shot him to death right before drawing his last breath; Nelson Mandela forgiving the people who had kept in jail half of his life in South Africa; for example.

But this is the thing; Philios begins with the simple idea of wanting what is best for the person next to you. It could be as simple as choosing not to cut down the tree that your neighbour uses for shade. It could be as complex as trying to be nice to someone who has treated you badly all of your life.

When Jesus said we should love one another, he was not saying something that is easy to do…

Solidarity Brother!

Ok, again, this is one of those cases where the reading by itself makes no sense… so let’s look at it another way. This is actually part of a fundraising speech by Paul, as a steward of the church. He is looking to raise funds for the church in Jerusalem, and what he is doing is going from church to church in the provinces and “suggesting” that they give money.

Changes the whole thing eh… when he writes, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need,” he is talking about money, and he is suggesting that we owe it to our brothers and sisters to share if we have more than we need.

So here is a second part of the deeper meaning of love. First off we see that it means affectionately loving those we do not like. Secondly we see that it is having a sense of responsibility for those we might never meet.

There is something even deeper going on here though, one of the purposes of this appeal to the church in Corinth was to show the solidarity between the two major groups of Christians—those of Jewish background and those who were Gentile. This was a new kind of friendship made possible because they all agreed on the love of God and the teachings of Jesus even though there were other things that divided them.

Unity, brother! Solidarity Sister! This would actually make a pretty good union rally speech if you updated the language… and there is a reason for that. Unions, although they were about the workers banding together, took their cue from Jesus.

If you work together… if you support one another…. If you are willing to share… You are doing something holy, you are being Christian.

The Outcasts

Then there is Jesus. And like he always does, he pushes the edges.

In the gospel of Mark two healing stories are woven together that show Jesus’ compassion and friendship toward people on the fringes of the community (a poor woman with a hemorrhage that has lasted for 12 years) as well as those who are high ranking (Jarius, a well-respected official whose daughter is very ill).

It is stuff like this that got him into trouble. I mean. If you were rich, you saw no reason to help the poor, and if you were poor, why would you bother with the rich, and so it is like Jesus is alienating everyone….

But we see here is another level of the depth of love. If we are exploring how to be Christian, and Jesus explicit command was to love everybody – then surely we need to see that it is also about those on the margins.

Sometimes we think we are doing this. We have this “there but for the grace of God” attitude and we give a loonie to a street person. The problem is, it is Paul who said we need to help financially… Jesus said we need to love. We need to see the other person as exactly the same as us… and we need to be able to enter into their world, their hearts, and love them for who they are.

Canadians are moving away from this. For some reason we think everyone is equal, and has a fair chance, and is just the same as me and you. But this is not true. There are a lot of people who are on the outside looking in and no amount of anything is going to make them just like me. Nor should it.

But the trick here is to love people who are different. So we need to be asking ourselves, who are the “different” people out there? Who is it that we need to love and how.

You see, if we can pull all this off, if we can, even just a little, start loving the way Jesus wanted, a lot would be different for us.


So, my opening prayer was about Friendship… but friendship in a certain sort of way, a way that I believe echoes the concept of Philia.

In the Celtic tradition, there is a term for soul-friendship.  Anam Cara - Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and Cara is the word for friend.  It began that a person who acted as a teacher or spiritual guide – or someone to whom you confessed, revealing secrets was called an Anam Cara.    

John O’Donohue, a leading scholar on the Celtic tradition says this, “When we are understood, we feel at home.  We feel safe and nourished.  Then, we are able to become what we are meant to become.”

I think, in the end, that is what we are all about as Christians. We are the ones who are meant to be soul friends. We are the ones that are meant to help others to “become” and this is true whether we are talking about our family, our friends, our neighbours, or our country.