- John O'Donahue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
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I was haunted by John O'Donahue last night, though I am certain he'd have never considered it such a thing. Until yesterday I knew nothing of him and today I am changed by him. He'd been a priest, a poet and philosopher. Mostly, from the bit I can gather, he was just a good man who worked at his work and loved the western wilds of Ireland where he was born. He died of a sudden at the age of 52. In his sleep. The parenthesis closed. And last night, as sleep refused my entreaties, John O'Donahue, a man who wrote blessings for the lostness of our world, haunted me: Get on with it, then.
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We have fallen out of belonging to the world, to its wildness, its unconcern, its stillness and forms: glens and marshes, limestone valleys, ocean shore and windswept scree. Houston is underwater because developers were trusted with a flood plain. Everywhere commerce controls the view, controls our lives, tells us when to wake, where to work and how much we're worth. It is all second nature to us and we've traded our primary nature for it. We fallen out of belonging to one another as well. The competition for dwindling resources pits us against one another whether that resource is a decent job, or a plot of land or the pleasure of being left alone for a few days from the job or the house. We have fallen out of belonging to our time. Instead, time controls us, tethered as we are to our technological crutches. There is a filter, a scrim separating us from our world, our time and our place. It is a displacement disguised as a benefit: isolation.
Solitude is the soul seeking its respite. Isolation is to be bereft of a soul.
Man first stood upright on savannas. We came into being knowing the horizon. It is ancient in us to seek the line between the earth and sky. It is ancient in us to be at peace when we can see the horizon. It is our home. It is our escape route. It is safety and promise. By crowding out the line, by building canyons of commerce and absorbing the shoreline for only the wealthy we have starved ourselves of our belonging. Subway systems, traffic flow, rail lines are the arterials of commerce and everywhere they blind us to the world.
Work, yes, but only at your work - whatever it may be. Not another man's work. Not on another man's terms, but on the terms and conditions you set. I know it seems impossible, and it likely is, but we must try to wrestle back from the overarching presumptions of our times the value and worth of the time we have to be here on the earth, to do whatever it is we are to do with the bit of time we have to do it in.
There is an ancient wildness in us still: the collective unconscious, what's bred in the bone, pre-knowledge. You can feel its presence when you stand alone in any broad landscape, where you can feel rooted in place, yet are dizzy with the spectacle before you. It is the old in us calling to us.
"This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand on it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket Be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival."
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We have not been living, but surviving for a long while. Look at your own days. How has that been going? Even if your bills are paid and your children well and kind, can you say whether you've been living or surviving? I have survived for a good long while. I am good at endurance, but less so at living. Yesterday, I met John O'Donahue, a priest who gave me his blessing and nothing will ever be the same.
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