My uncle told me this story about my grandmother:
I would drive my mother in the wagon down the road to the church house for prayer service, where maybe a half dozen women gathered. … I could hear their voices rippling through the night air, weeping and crying out to God…like when the midwife came to help Mama during her time of delivery. When it was over, the women came out [of the church] laughing and hugging one another. Mama would climb back into the wagon, humming.
My grandmother and her faith-filled friends had formed an ecclesial community. In Romans 1:12, Paul writes that “we be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” God allows us to draw strength from one another. It is a friendship of the soul.
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In the Bible, we see many examples of soul sisters across the generations. In the Old Testament, Naomi and Ruth have a special soulful friendship. Their common denominator is God.
In the New Testament, Luke mentions three women with a soul sister connection: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna (Luke 8:1–3). Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna, along with the 12 disciples, followed Jesus. All three women had been delivered from evil spirits and infirmities.
There is nothing like shared trauma to forge friendships and bond souls!
Soul sisters have issues and infirmities. They are not trekking down life’s highway with halos. Their commonality is a kinship of spirit and acceptance of shared imperfections.
Have you ever looked at the flip side of an embroidered doily? Threads intermingle, making it hard to discern where each thread starts or stops. Without this intricate weaving, the artist’s vision will not be complete. Soul sisters understand that each is only productive with the other.
There can be no hierarchy with sisters of the soul. If we look only at the threading we see a snarled mess, and we miss God’s vision. But if we look only at the picture and neglect the threading, we miss God’s lessons for our lives. Soul sisters follow Christ, supporting each other in their callings.
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When Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, God directed her to Elizabeth. Mary and Elizabeth comforted and encouraged each other during what may have been the most vulnerable and misunderstood time of their lives.
In my own life, the more I’ve reached out for soulful sister friendships, the more fortified I’ve become in my female-ness. Now I am encompassed by a great sorority of celestial sisters.
Hang in there together, sisters. We may get that halo one day.
Helen Hollingsworth is a retired ELCA pastor living in Georgia. This in an excerpt of the May 2016 Give Us This Day column in Gather.