“Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul. Love alone is literate in the world of origin; it can decipher identity and destiny. –John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
I met John O’Donohue in Anaheim, California, at a workshop. He spoke eloquently, with an Irish brogue, and captivated me with his words about our first silence coming alive and visible at our birthing. Afterwards, we talked. He took both my hands into his paws (he was tall, bearded, and when he folded my hands tenderly into his, they disappeared.) He gazed into my eyes, with a sea of people pulsing around us, waiting in line to speak to him, and in his resonant voice, said, “I’m so delighted to meet you. Who are you? Yes, come to Boulder, I’ll be there…” I was thirty something, working in the Catholic church, seeking mystics who knew God by experience. He walked the talk. He wrote and spoke the walk.
He’d spoken of the rhythm we knew before we were born that day—that our heartbeat gives expression to in our body, in this place and time. I have no idea how many years ago that was. A lot. I devoured his books and audio tapes–all mystical, entrancing, earthy, imbued with a Celtic spirituality. I made sure to attend every workshop he offered in the years I traveled to California from Colorado for the annual conference. He died, unexpectedly, about the time his best book published. Today, St. Patty’s Day, I drove to Homer, Alaska, 70 miles down the road. I listened to a new CD set by his friend, poet David Whyte. Whyte, who equally captivates me—of course they would be soul-friends—shared new stories of their friendship. I had not intended to write about John O’Donohue today—although he is in my top five on the top 40 list. But, he wanted to be the topic. It’s that flow thing…
O’Donohue’s poem Fluent is one I memorized (it’s short). Someday I’ll paint it on a wall in my home.
I would love to live,
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise,
Of its own unfolding.
Shortly after he died in 2008, I had a powerful meditation in which he brought me kites—the type that fly high, mostly yellow and spring green, with bows along the tethered strands to be held in the hand. I’m still not fully aware of the message, but it ripples through me a few times a year, and every time I see a kite I think of him. Kites invaded my consciousness again tonight.
His work is so broad, I decided to simply share a quote that has meaning to me from each book he penned. I invite you to choose a book, listen to him, or visit his website.
To Bless the Space Between Us is my favorite. Anam Cara guides my presence in the world as a soul-friend, or spiritual director. Beauty celebrates beauty. Eternal Echoes evokes. The Four Elements celebrates incarnation. Conamara Blues, a book of poems, nourishes the soul.
“It is difficult to trust most spiritual or pious talk; it inevitably seems to have either a dead or domesticated God as its reference. … Wall-to-wall spiritual talk leaves no oxygen for a living God to breathe or for the danger of the soul to quicken. Words map the world. … The Divine has no frontiers” (192-193, Eternal Echoes).
“To be holy is to be home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging we call the soul.” (Anam Cara)
“The soul did not invent itself. It is a presence from the divine world, where intimacy has no limit or barrier.” (Anam Cara)
“We need to reimagine God as the energy of the transfigurative eros, the source from which all creativity flows” (32, Anam Cara).
“We are inevitably drawn to the beauty of the face for it is there that we had our first inkling of beauty. In its form, presence of left and right, the face offers the first intimation of the symmetry and order that lies at the heart of beauty … Nature is full of hidden geometry and harmony, as is the human mind; and the creation of the mind that awakens or recreates this sense of pattern and order tends to awaken or unveil beauty” (15, Beauty).
“May you travel in an awakened way,
gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you” (54, To Bless the Space Between Us).
End your day with At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions (or at the least, the last, most excellent line.)
At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions
What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence—why was I given this day?
— John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (98)
John O’Donohue, the poet, philosopher, former priest, activist, and Celtic wild man is Eucharist to my spirit. His memory anchors me in the landscape of visibility, in the brilliance of shelter and belonging, and most of all, beauty and blessing. If there is one book to treat yourself to from these 40 days of Inked, treat yourself to this Celtic mystic. He never disappoints. I am indebted to him; a man who asked questions that invoked my spirit to grow roots and wings.