One Sunday morning I listened to a rebroadcast of “Speaking of Faith” on NPR. In a brilliant flowing Irish accent, that episodes guest spoke of a connection to beauty and the divine. His words so resonated within me, I said to myself, “He’s got it! That guy has got it right!” It was John O’Donohue, an Irish Catholic priest, philosopher, poet, writer and mystic who died suddenly in 2008.
O’Donohue wrote several books including Anam Cara, about finding the secret spiritual life within. A book a poems and blessings called, To Bless the Space Between Us, and Beauty, about how the divine is revealed in beauty. Beside his work as a writer, John O’Donohue was a kick-ass poet.
From time to time I’d like to feature a poem by John O’Donohue.
And this one speaks directly to me and perhaps to some of you.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The ride you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
John O’Donohue (1954-2008) had degrees in philosophy and literature. His writings, though grounded in academic philosophy and theology, are immediate, personal, very human. He was as much a mystic and a poet as a contributor to philosophical dialog.
Much of his writing and poetry drew deeply from Irish Celtic perspectives, both in Christian and pre-Christian wisdom, while speaking to a widely diverse, modern audience.