A soul friend’s role is to listen with one ear tuned to his friend’s heart and the other tuned to God in prayer.
There were 20 of us from all over the UK, and my wife and I–the lone Yanks. Most of the pilgrims were in their 40’s, except for a retired postman in his late 80’s; a very thin man, sporting a blue-stubbled beard, and wearing a tweed suit with yesterday's breakfast on his tie. In my memory, he looked like Paul's grandfather from A Hard Day's Night. He appeared to be suffering from dementia, had difficulty walking, and seemed very tired. His name was Bobby and he had taken a bus 500 kilometers by himself from way down south in London town to attend the soul friend retreat. He slept through much of the morning’s teaching. To close the session, we each drew lots for our weekend soul friend.
I drew Bobby’s name.
Just before lunch, we went off in pairs to various rooms in the big mother house to share our spiritual lives with our soul friends. Bobby and I were assigned to my room which was upstairs and on the other side of the 10,000 square foot 14th century manse. I held Bobby up as we shuffled along and up the old stairs. It took us 5 minutes to walk to my room.
We sat down in stuffed chairs and I shared my story with Bobby. I told him how excited I was to be in England, that I was a singer-songwriter but God was leading me on a 'wild goose' chase and that I was being called into pastoral ministry. Bobby closed his eyes and I wondered if he was falling asleep. I rambled on dutifully for fifteen minutes, telling him about my busy life in the states. I was thinking: What a waste of time, this old man has no clue what I’m talking about. I told him I had three children. I was a musician. I lived in Minnesota which had 10,000 lakes and was full of Scandinavians. Had he ever been to the US? Now here I was in England trying to sort out a mid-life crisis and call. I filled up the time with lots of detailed information about the current struggles in my life. Bobby’s eyes flittered open, then closed. His head slumped to his chin.
A bit of drool formed on his lip.
I looked nervously at the clock. Whew! Time's up.
“Well, that’s it, Bobby.” I said. “I guess we should probably go back to the group. Would you like to say anything?” The idea was that your anamchara would ask some questions that might help you process what is going on in your soul. I restlessly wiggled in my chair. I didn’t expect him to say anything.
Bobby’s eyes were closed. He was very tired. A minute passed.
I started to get up and lead us back down to the group. He cleared his throat. Then Bobby opened his eyes to a squint and smacked his lips.
His rheumy eyes looked through me.
Then he spoke, in a pronounced London cockney accent:
“St. Augustine…St. Augustine said…St. Augustine said:
“Our hearts …are restless…(lip smack) until they find their rest in Thee, O God.”
And we sat with that together for a couple minutes in silence. Then I helped Bobby up out of his chair, and we braced each other as we slowly traveled back down the stairs and joined our fellow monks for lunch.