On Imbolc, St Brigid and John O'Donohue Post Two of Two

This is the second post continuing the themes related to early February and the Celtic festival of Imbolc that heralds Spring. 

The first one focusing on St Brigid is here.

Imbolc signifies the spark of the light of Spring in the heart of Winter and so the fire at Imbolc symbolizes the returning light and the coming of Spring.

It is a time for re- connecting to the slower and deeper meaning of natural rhythms of the seasons that are easily eroded in a frenetic age of hyperactive social connectivity networks.

Brigid was a fire Goddess, patroness of poets, seers, and metalsmiths; she was the heart and fire of the hearth that was the centre of home and community. She was invoked for protection in childbirth and agriculture.

As the Muse and protector of the poet-seers, her visions, and prophecies were associated with the transforming alchemical fire of change.

With the arrival of Christianity, Imbolc became known as Candlemas, and was associated with the Virgin Mary emerging from her 'seclusion' after the birth of Jesus and presenting the newborn Christ in the temple.

                                                                 Image from here

In Ireland, the ancient Celtic stories of the Goddess gradually merge with the early Christian tales of the nun and abbess who became St Brigid -- a powerfully inspired woman, born in the mid-fifth century. Brigid started several monasteries, including Kildare Abbey at which the eternal flame of Brigid burned.

Later at this Kildare site, the Abbess and her nuns continue the work in the name of St. Brigid. You can read more at their site here. 

The contemporary Brigidine Sisters continue the tradition of St. Brigid in several parts of the world, saying, "There is mystery at the heart of what holds us together, expressed in shared symbols, stories and experiences."

The Irish monk, Cogitosus who wrote ‘A Life of Brigid’ (Vita Brigitae) 650 AD, places great emphasis on Brigid’s faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with animals, and above all her compassion for the poor and the oppressed."

St. Brigid "... exercised miraculous influence over the weather, animals, and the landscape. “She stilled the rain and wind,” the final line of the Bethu Brigte, a medieval account of Brigid’s life, tells us," shares Jan Richardson, writer, artist, and Methodist minister.

St. Brigid was known for her lavish generosity, sourced in her deep awareness of the abundance or "very fullness of God." This is what Jan Richardson calls, "A habit of the wildest bounty."

This second post is also to highlight the work of the late Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue, whose work has featured several times before in my blog.

Photo Image of John O'Donohue from here

My mother's maiden name was O'Donohue so I have always felt some affinity with John's life and works. Maybe we were even related somewhere along the way.

John is well known as a writer for among his many books , the popular Anam Ċara, Gaelic for "soul friend," and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God.

He was born in January 1956, the first of four children to Patrick and Josie O’Donohue. At the age of 18, John entered the novitiate at Maynooth where he completed his BA in English and Philosophy in 1977 and his degree in Theology, in 1980. 
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1982, received his MA in 1982 and was awarded his Ph.D in Philosophical Theology from The University of Tubingen Germany in 1990. In his dissertation, Person als Vermittlung, (published in Germany in 1993), John developed a new concept of Person through a re-interpretation of the philosophy of Hegel. He left the priesthood in the 1990's.

The prestigious Review of Metaphysics commended him for “breaking new ground in our thinking about consciousness . . . [with] a richer and deeper notion of Personhood.” In John’s words: “Hegel struck me as someone who put his eye to the earth at a most unusual angle and managed to glimpse the circle toward which all things aspire.”


by John O’Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you are ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety,
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled.
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desires.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

There is a wonderful new set of resources available from Krista Tippett's multi media site "On Being", dedicated to  the life of John O'Donohue.

In one of his last interviews before his death aged 52, in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience. Click here for the transcript of the interview.
or you can listen here

John O'Donohue walks in the countryside near his boyhood home of Connemara, Ireland,  taken from On Being site.

and a tribute from NPR here

 John is laid to rest in Fanore, Co Clare, Ireland, which is also the county of my birth.

The video below shows John reciting his well known poem Beannacht, meaning blessing, during an interview with Krista Tippett. The video is woven with his close friends' photographs of him in his Celtic landscapes.

For more resources from Krista Tippett click here

 Another of John's poems.............

For Equilibrium, A Blessing:

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of God.

  John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Invocations and Blessings

Anam Ċara cover
Image via Wikipedia

A few extracts from the book Anam Cara

The Eye celebrates Motion:

"The human eye adores movement and is alert to the slightest flicker. It enjoys great moments of celebration when it beholds the ocean as the tide comes in, and tide upon tide repeats its dance against the shore. The eye also loves the way light moves; summer light behind a cloud crawling over a meadow. 

The eye follows the way the wind shovels leaves and sways trees. The human person is always attracted to motion. As a little baby you wanted to crawl, then to walk, and as an adult you feel the continuous desire to walk into independence and freedom.

Everything alive is in movement. This movement we call growth. The most exciting form of growth is not mere physical growth, but the inner growth of one’s soul and life. It is here that the holy longing within the heart brings one’s life to motion. The deepest wish of the heart is that this motion does not remain broken or jagged, but develops sufficient fluency to become the rhythm of one’s life.

The secret heart of time is change and growth. Each new experience which awakens in you adds to your soul and deepens your memory. The person is always a nomad, journeying from threshold to threshold, into ever different experiences. In each new experience, another dimension of the soul unfolds. It is no wonder that from ancient times the human person has been understood as a wanderer. 

Traditionally, these wanderers traversed foreign territories and unknown places. Yet, Stanislavsky, the Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: “The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.”

There is a beautiful complexity of growth within the human soul. In order to glimpse this, it is helpful to visualise the mind as a tower of windows. Sadly, many people remain trapped at one window, looking out every day at the same scene in the same way. 
Real growth is experienced when you draw back from one window, turn and walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze. Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence and creativity. 

Complacency, habit and blindness often prevent you from feeling your life. So much depends on the frame of vision – the window through which we look."

 and this :

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into shape. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go.”

John O’Donohue, “Anam Cara” Bantam Books 1999

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