For many years now I've had a deep appreciation for the ancient Celtic people of the British Islands who emerged from Druidism to become followers of Jesus Christ. What was unique about the Celts was that their Christian spirituality emerged and flourished without being impacted by the institutional Roman church (until the devastating 7th-century Synod of Whitby.) They were distinctly not Catholic or protestant. They were simply followers of Jesus. As such, they enjoyed rich, meaningful components of their faith that have since been lost to us in the Catholic or protestant systems.
One such component of their faith was the nurturing of relationships with what they called, "soul friends." The Christian world around them at the time proclaimed that the most important relationship one could have was their relationship with the church, her doctrines, and the priest who would administer to them the sacraments. Outside of this, there could be no relationship with God. The Celts, on the other hand, understood that their relationship with God did not depend upon any institution or clerical middle-man. But they did find that their relationship with God was deeply nourished through their relationship with a soul friend.
A soul friend was somebody who was as close to you as a brother or sister. He was a person who you spent time with, a substantial amount of time, working, playing, eating together, talking, laughing, crying. The relationship between soul friends was one of such trust that either person could freely share the deepest, darkest secrets of their life without fear of judgment or violation of that trust. In such a relationship the heart could be laid bare for transformation to occur. Because there were no secrets between soul friends, neither person could hide within an illusion that they were keeping something hidden from God.
Soul friends are hard to find in our culture. We Americans are so individualistic, so busy, and so religious that when we do try to find such relationships we end up with something we like to call "accountability partners." Our attempt at this is a pitiful caricature of what they enjoyed. Unlike the relationship with a "soul friend," our "accountability" relationships lead to bondage, guilt, deception, deterioration of friendships and a retreat to isolation. In the Celtic practice, authentic relationship came first, with trust, vulnerability, honesty, and restoration being a natural fruit of that relationship.
As difficult as it is to cultivate in our culture, it is a component of spiritual wellness that I think we need to work hard to resurrect. I'm interested to know if any readers are enjoying vital "soul friend" relationships, how you found your soul friend, and how that relationship is lived out from day-to-day.