Soul Friendship or Advancing Together in God

St-KentigernIn Joceline’s Life of Saint Kentigern (also known as Saint Mungo) who lived in the latter half of the 6th century and is the Patron Saint of Glasgow, there is a fascinating account of Kentigern’s meeting up with Saint Dewi (also known as Saint David).

It is a moving and insightful account of the way in which two Christian brothers (or sisters) can be soul-friends, can help each other in their Christian pilgrimage.

I would like to go through the brief account of their time together and pull out some principles of soul-friendship from this.

“…Bishop Dewi rejoiced with great joy at the arrival of such and so great a stranger. With eyes overflowing with tears, and mutually embracing, he received Kentigern as an angel of the Lord, dear to God, and, retaining him for a certain time in his immediate vicinity, always honoured him to a wonderful extent.”

The first principle of soul-friendship is the mutual acknowledgement of the inherent value of the other and the desire to honour each other in the Lord.

Each Christian is a much-beloved son or daughter of God and, as such, we must seek to appreciate each other and to value each other in the same way that God Himself values us. This is practically expressed in acts that honour the person.

“Therefore these two sons of light dwelt together, attending upon the Lord of the whole earth, like two lamps burning before the Lord, whose tongues became the keys of heaven, that by them a multitude of men might be deemed meet to enter therein…”

The second principle of soul-friendship is the mutual standing in worship before God. It is always God who is central in a soul-friendship. Out of this mutual standing in worship before God we find that there naturally emerges a holy conversation, a sharing of what we have received from God and this conversation is missional, it reaches out beyond the two friends and touches others with divine revelation that sparks faith and brings salvation. In one way, you might say that if God is the central concern of a soul-friendship, others are the secondary concern. It is almost as if the two friends are somewhat peripheral in their own relationship!

“…like the two cherubim in the holy of holies in the temple seat of the Lord, having their faces bent down towards the mercy-seat. They lifted their wings on high in the frequent mediation upon heavenly things; they folded them down in the ordination and arrangement of earthly things.”

The third principle of soul-friendship is that it is not merely mystical; it is also earthed and rooted in the realities of daily life. The two saints not only shared in worship and divine contemplation, they also helped each other in the complex organisation and practical arrangement of their ministries.

“They touched each other mutually with their wings, as by the instruction of each other in the Doctrine of Salvation; and in the alternate energizing of virtues they excited in each other to a more earnest advance in sanctity.”

The fourth principle of soul-friendship is mutual instruction in the faith and mutual exhortation in sanctity. Each of us has our own grasp of elements of the faith, grown out of the particular crucible of our experiences; therefore we always have things to share with each other, things to teach each other.

We are all also “works in progress” when it comes to sanctity. We have our particular strengths and weaknesses. We can inspire and challenge each other to do better, to advance. Any genuine friendship desires the very best for the friend. In Christian terms this is expressed in loving encouragement and also exhortation. A man sharpens a man, as iron sharpens iron, says the Bible.

“…and bidding farewell to Saint Dewi, after mutual benediction, he betook himself to the place aforesaid.”

The fifth principle of soul-friendship that we can draw from this meeting of Kentigern and Dewi is expressed in their parting, the principle of mutual benediction. This is the primary goal, our desire is that our friend might be blessed. Blessed in their walk with God, blessed in a deeper understanding of God’s will, blessed with a life that expresses closer harmony with holiness, blessed with a ministry that more clearly presents the love and call of God to men.

“Thus the most holy Kentigern, separated from Saint Dewi as to bodily presence, but by no means withdrawn from his love and from the vision and observation of the inner man…”

The final principle of soul friendship is that it is a committed, continuing relationship. Although the two men parted, they did not cease to remember the other, to pray for the other and to be present to each other in their thoughts. Their relationship expresses the reality of the Universal Church, that it t say, all those who are in relation with God are by that same relationship also in relation with each other. If we have God as our Father, we have each other as our brother. This relationship, as t depends upon God is not limited by time or space. Soul friendship seeks to hold on to the reality of this mystical bond between believers. It will not allow a little thing like geography to interrupt their communion.

It is appropriate that we learn these principles from the saint also known as “Mungo”, for this name signifies “beloved”. Who better to instruct us in how better to love one another in God?