Advent Reflections: Validation (Week 1)
Advent Guide from Urban Skye Project
Thin Places come through the encouragement of a soul friend.
Mary and Elizabeth make an odd pair. Connected only by blood and now impending motherhood, they were otherwise worlds apart. Elizabeth was a priest’s wife, well-known for her piety. Yet, she had long bore the cultural “curse” of childlessness. Mary was on the opposite end of life’s journey—looking ahead and not behind. She was a small town girl, betrothed to a man well chosen by her parents and awaiting the sacred space of marriage and children. Then an angel interrupts her plans.
After the angel departed and Mary was overshadowed by the Most High, the loneliness must have been intense. Literally carrying The Secret of the ages in her womb, she had no one with whom to share it. She told her fiancé, Joseph, but he did not believe her. Instead he considered his options of how to “handle” the situation. Did she tell her parents? Maybe. But it would have been easier for them to accept the idea that their little girl was carried away by human desire than the miraculous alternative. (Funny how miracles are easier to imagine for some other family.)
Where could this fourteen year old turn to find comfort and validation? Remembering the angel’s words that her older, barren cousin was already in her sixth month, she sought out Elizabeth to be her shelter. Upon entering Elizabeth’s home, her older cousin, finally feeling the heels of her son upon her ribs, erupted with the words Mary desperately needed to hear: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
It was true! Her wonderful Elizabeth validated her holy secret! This was the reason for the arduous trip from her rural Galilean village to the hill country of Judea: to be with one who believed the work of God in her life. Such validation could not be contained. As if permission was suddenly granted for Mary to reveal her heart, out of her thin place flowed this poetic hymn:
I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth! (See Luke 1:46-55)
The Celtic Way: Anam Cara
Like Elizabeth for Mary, the early Celtic Church recognized the need for a friend who acted as an encourager, companion or spiritual guide. That person was called an anam cara, a Gaelic term meaning “soul friend.” They believed an anam cara was a gift of God and was necessary for spiritual growth. The key is someone who knows us well and willing to speak to us truthful words. According to St. Brigit, 5th century Celtic saint, Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.
Cultivating Your Thin Place
This first week of Advent has us considering the crucial role of friendship in our lives. As Mary needed Elizabeth to validate what God was doing in her life, we seek to have and to be an anam cara.
Consider who in your life needs your unique validation. It may be a younger person—a child in your life who needs your blessing—or a peer who needs a true word. The spiritual function of an anam cara is to see clearly into the life of their friend and reflect back “This is how I see God at work around you.” This requires a listening heart on our part. As this person comes to mind, find a way to encourage them as only you can.
Are you in need of validation? A soul friend is one who can handle our dreams and our confessions. Are you holding on to a dream that you hardly dare to speak or some other secret that needs a soul friend’s ear and words? Consider this a week to share one important thing with a trusted friend.
As you go about your week, receive this blessing and pray this blessing on another. If you have children in your life, you may choose to pray this over them.
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend yourself.
May you be brought into the real passion, kinship,
and affinity of belonging.
May they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
“A Friendship Blessing”, John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
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