It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world awaits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring the news of this inner world. Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. —John O'Donohue
Thanks to my near-ecstatic devotion to podcasts and weekly pilgrimages to my local library, I've discovered some the prettiest expressions of the sacred in the works of John O'Donohue. Irish poet, philosopher, Catholic scholar, he is one of those gifted with a heart receptive to the art of life. When I discovered his voice and his vision of the profound friendliness of the world, seen and unseen, I felt a kinship with his love of combining the mythic, the anthropological, the literary with the spiritual.
In celebration, here are some of the deep-running threads of thought he's inspired in me.
1. Words as containing—defying, hiding, yet revealing—the profound silence imbued in every thing and every moment. Words as power, words as magic. And words as threshold to vastness, the endless craft of my creative life: "Words are the oblique mirrors that hold your thoughts. You gaze into these word-mirrors and catch glimpses of meaning, belonging, and shelter. Behind their bright surfaces is the dark and the silence."
2. Longing as sacred pain. The welcome affirmation of alchemy: that the sickness of the soul finds its healing through tumult. The observation that pain is transfiguration: "True vitality is hidden within longing. When you give in to creative passion, it will bring you to the ultimate thresholds of transfiguration and renewal. This growth causes pain, but it is a sacred pain. It would be much more tragic to have cautiously avoided these depths and remained marooned on the shiny surfaces of the banal."
3. Existence as expression of form. And our subsequent longing as expression of remembering existence before form. How else do we satisfactorily reconcile the deep Otherness of a world that becomes, in a blink, utterly hostile? "Everything in the world of soul has a deep desire and longing for visible form." The cosmology implicit in this idea has a comforting way of unifying all things, rendering them friendly through shared destiny, and recalling the illusion of time. If nothing else, it's a sense-making of our existence that elicits deep Togetherness.
4. All movement of civilized humanity as a movement towards the sense-making of a strange world of navigating Otherness: "The spur of tension that has enlivened all of Western philosophy is the desire to bring subject and object together." And art as the poet's quest to bridge this chasm between Self and Other by bypassing the logic of philosophy towards a more natural, spontaneous expression of subject perceiving object.
5. The role of love in awakening our sense of the ultimate Togetherness beneath seeming Otherness. Either by bringing to light our fractured sense of belonging as humans born into Otherness or by eliciting our deepest capacity for tenderness, intimacy sheds light on deeper truth. Love can, then, catalyze a waking of the senses: "In the human face, the anonymity of the universe becomes intimate."