The Rhythms Of Longing And Belonging In A Community

A culture that cannot praise the divine becomes a bare, cold place. The demise of religious and spiritual practice has contributed hugely to this flattening.

One can understand how a culture that has come of age can find little shelter or resonance in the way many of the rituals of institutional religion are practised. Increasing numbers of people stay away. Others attempt to develop their own rituals. The difficulty here is that a deeply resonant ritual emerges over years out of the rhythms of longing and belonging in a community. Great rituals create an imaginative and symbolic frame which can awaken numinous otherness, the tenderness, and the danger of the Divine. It is a subtle and infinitely penetrating form. Scattered, isolated individuals cannot invent ritual. Consumerism has stolen the sacred ritual structures of religion and uses them incisively in its liturgies of advertising and marketing. Meanwhile the post-modern soul becomes poorer and falls even further from the embrace and practice of sacred belonging. The great thing about a community at prayer is that your prayer helps mine — as mine helps yours. This makes no consumerist sense, but it is one of the most vivid enhancements of Being available to us. Individualism of the raw competitive kind is ignorant of this dimension.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 210-211)

You Enter The Secret Temple Of Your Deepest Belonging

There are no words for the deepest things. Words become feeble when mystery visits and prayer moves into silence. In post-modern culture the ceaseless din of chatter has killed our acquaintance with silence. Consequently, we are stressed and anxious. Silence is a fascinating presence. Silence is shy; it is patient and never draws attention to itself. Without the presence of silence, no word could ever be said or heard. Our thoughts constantly call up new words. We become so taken with words that we barely notice the silence, but the silence is always there. The best words are born in the fecund silence that minds the mystery.

…When the raft of prayer leaves the noisy streams of words and thoughts, it enters the still lake of silence. At this point, you become aware of the tranquility that lives within you. Beneath your actions, gestures, and thoughts, there is a silent tranquility.

When you pray, you visit the kind innocence of your soul. This is a pure place of unity which the noise of life can never disturb. You enter the secret temple of your deepest belonging. Only in this temple can your hungriest longing find stillness and peace. This is summed up in that lovely line from the Bible “Be still and know that I am God.” In stillness, the silence of the divine becomes intimate.

…When we pray, we pray to that space in the Divine Presence which absolutely knows us. This could be what is suggested in the New Testament when it says of our return to the invisible world: “On that day you will know as you are known.”

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 206-207)

You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

The other night dear, as I lay sleepin’
I dreamed, I held you in my arms
When I awoke dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cry

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

I’ll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me to love another
But you’ll regret it all some day

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

You told me once dear, you really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you’ve left me and you love another
And you have shattered all my dreams

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
Please don’t take my sunshine away

– Written by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell

A Secret Belonging Carried Within The Soul

One of the most tender images is the human person at prayer. When the body gathers itself before the Divine, a stillness deepens. The blaring din of distraction ceases and the deeper tranquillity within the heart envelops the body. To see someone at prayer is a touching sight. For a while they have become unmoored from the grip of society, work and role. It is as if they have chosen to enter into a secret belonging carried within the soul; they rest in that inner temple impervious to outer control or claiming. A person at prayer also evokes the sense of vulnerability and fragility. Their prayer reminds us that we are mere guests of the earth, pilgrims who always walk on unsteady ground, carrying in earthen vessels multitudes of longing.

To sit or kneel in prayer is visually our most appropriate physical presence. There is something right about this. It coheres with the secret structure of existence and reality, namely that we have a right to nothing. Everything that we are, think, feel and have is a gift. We have received everything, even the opportunity to come to the earth and walk awake in this wondrous universe. There are many people who have worked harder than us, people who have done more kind and holy things and yet they have received nothing. The human body gathered in prayer mirrors our fragility and inner poverty and it makes a statement recognizing the divine generosity that is always blessing us. To be gathered in prayer is appropriate. It is a gracious, reverential and receptive gesture. It states that, at the threshold of each moment, the gift of breath and blessing comes across to embrace us.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 184-185)

The Wildness Of The Invisible World Is Nameless

The wildness of the invisible world is nameless.  It has no name.  A first step towards reawakening respect for your inner life may be to become aware of the private collage of dead names you have for your inner life.  Often, the experiences of wilderness can return us to the nameless wildness within.  Sometime, go away to a wild place on your own.  Leave your name and the grid of intentions and projects and images which mark you out as citizen Z.  Leave it all, and let yourself just slip back into the rhythms of your intimate wildness.  You will be surprised at the lost terrains, wells, and mountains that you will rediscover, territories which have been buried under well-meant but dead names.  To go beyond confinement is to rediscover yourself.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 127)

Certainty Is A Subtle Destroyer

Each time we go out, the world is open and free; it offers itself so graciously to our hearts, to create something new and wholesome from it each day.  It is a travesty of possibility and freedom to think we have no choice, that things are the way they are and that the one street, the one right way is all that is allotted to us.  Certainty is a subtle destroyer.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 123)

Moving Towards The Gift That Was Prepared For You

We were created to be free; within you there is deep freedom. This freedom will not intrude; it will not hammer at the door of your life and force you to embrace it. The greater presences within us do not act in this way. Their invitation is inevitably subtle and gracious. In order to inherit your freedom, you need to go towards it. You have to claim your own freedom before it becomes yours. This is neither arrogant nor selfish; it is simply moving towards the gift that was prepared for you from ancient times.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 106)

I would have been bold and squandered you, you boundless Now

If I’d grown up in a different land,
one with lighter days and slimmer hours,
I would have made for you a great fete,
and my hands would not have held you
the way they often do, clenched and afraid.
I would have been bold and squandered you,
you boundless Now.
I would have hurled you
like a ball
into every billowing delight, so that someone
could catch you and leap
with high hands to meet your fall,
you thing of things.

– Rilke, from The Book of Hours

Go To The Limits Of Your Longing

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours

We Are Standing On Wild Earth

The control and ordering of society is amazing: we comply so totally with its unwritten rules. In a city at morning, you see the lines of traffic and the rows of faces all on their way to work. We show up. We behave ourselves. We obey fashion and taste. Meanwhile, almost unknown to ourselves, we are standing on wild earth at a crossroads in time where anything can come towards us. Yet we behave as if we carry the world and were the executives of a great plan. Everywhere around us mystery never sleeps. The same deep nature is within us. Each person is an incredibly sophisticated, subtle and open-ended work of art. We live at the heart of our own intimacy, yet we are strangers to its endless nature.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p 100)