Traditional monasteries are built around the heart of shared community life. People would become monks as a way to live in an environment of support for contemplative living. In our modern world we often feel isolated from one another and it can be challenging to find meaningful relationships centered around the spiritual life.
In the Celtic monastic tradition the soul friend was considered to be an essential companion on the spiritual path. A soul friend is someone with whom you can share deeply about your struggles for meaning and your longings for how to shape your life. Henri Nouwen describes such a friend as one "who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing." Soul friends offer us unconditional presence to whatever we may be experiencing. When we have this kind of relationship in our lives, it becomes easier for us to extend compassion to ourselves and others.
The spiritual life is meant to be lived in communion with one another, so as monks in the world, we have to create community in a variety of ways. Accountability and mutual encouragement is vital to sustaining contemplative and compassionate ways of being.
Consider finding one or two others in your life who might support you on your journey to be a monk in the world. This might be a spiritual director, a small faith group, or simply a friend with whom you can explore conversations of the heart, allowing each to be with your own experiences of wrestling without trying to fix it or move the other on.
Where in your life do you experience a genuine sense of community or soul friendship already?
When you slow down and listen to your longings for spiritual companionship, what are some of the qualities which rise up as essential?
God of friendship
we come to know you through the
grace of one another.
Weave us together with kindred spirits,
knit us more closely with friends of the soul,
gather us into your great wide heart,
so we might discover the One in many,
and the many in One.