Celts to the Crèche: Day 16
John O’Donohue of Ireland
January 1, 1956-January 4, 2008
On this 16th day of journeying with the Celts to the Crèche, we join up with a modern day Celt, John O’Donohue of Ireland. John was a renowned former priest, poet, philosopher, mystic, author, scholar, and a lover of his home territory of the Burren on the western coast of Ireland.
John had a beautiful, Celtic wild soul with a mesmerizing Irish lilt to his voice. He was known for being a gregarious, fun-loving companion, with an earthy sense of humor and joie de vivre, and was a mesmerising storyteller who also loved solitude. Rev. Mary Earle, an author, poet, creation lover, priest, and professor counted John as a dear friend. She described his contagious laughter as throwing back his head and laughing loudly with abandon. John, who was known to enjoy a good single malt or Jameson whiskey was able to connect the worldly with the sacred — and see it all as holy. His writings speak deeply to our soul and remind us of the beauty, mystery, and wildness of creation.
You may desire to continue reading more about John O’Donohue or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.
Discovering this Celtic Author: In the Fall of 2008, I was on a retreat at the incredibly beautiful St. John’s Abbey Guesthouse in Collegeville, Minnesota. Squeezed into a tight little corner of my mini carry-on suitcase was a new black and gold paperback by an author I had never heard of, to read in the solitude of my peaceful, zen-like room overlooking the serene view of swaying trees and glassy pond. As I had recently discovered Celtic Christian spirituality, the title had intrigued me, so Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue was my companion on this retreat. This book spoke to my soul profoundly.
To hear the news that John O’Donohue had just passed away within the year was very sad. Since that retreat, I have re-read Anam Cara numerous times and have devoured all his other books, listened to podcasts, and watched youtube videos of this most unusual Celt who now resides on the other side of the veil. To read his books or to hear his engaging voice intonate one of his poems is to savor the gift of blessing that transforms into a deep knowing that the Presence of God is with us, within us, and surrounding our very being. His friends speak of his amazing huge deep joyous laugh and the twinkle in his eyes.
More information about John’s life can be found at www. johnodonohue.com.
Following is a poem that John wrote that was published in his book To Bless the Space Within (Benedictus in Europe and UK) two months after he died.
‘May there be some beautiful surprise
Waiting for you inside death
Something you never knew or felt,
Which with one simple touch
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken within the embrace
For which your soul was eternally made.
‘May your heart be speechless
At the sight of the truth
Of all your belief had hoped,
Your heart breathless
In the light and lightness
Where each and every thing
Is at last its true self
Within that serene belonging
That dwells beside us
On the other side
Of what we see.’
Throughout the years as a pastor, I have read John O’ Donohue’s poignant poem, Beannacht (Blessing) at numerous graveside services. The currach (also known as a “coracle”) he mentions in this blessing is a small boat especially used in Celtic lands. This currach (coracle) was and is often designed for an individual rider and is usually made of leather or wicker. John wrote this blessing for his mother Josie years before either of them passed away:
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
John O’Donohue website. Information about John, a listing of all his books, videos, recordings, memorial, etc. Excellent website about John.
The Independent. John Skinner’s thoughts on John O’Donohue.
The Irish Times. Poet and Author John O’Donohue Laid to Rest. January 14, 2008.
The Irish Times. President at Funeral of Poet’s Mother. January 4, 2012.
McColman, Carl. Remembering John O’Donohue. January 2008.
______. An oral interview with John O’ Donohue. Tippett, Krista. The Inner Landscape of Beauty. Youtube. 52:10. February 28, 2005
Sawyers, June Skinner. “John O’Donohue” in Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.