A Call to Beauty

The Esalen Institute

I didn’t know anything about the mind of John O’Donohue until last year. The poet, philosopher, and former Catholic priest gave an interview in The Sun magazine (April 2007) in which he noted that when we enter an intimate relationship with another person, we are hell bent on colonizing all the space between us. (I don’t think he said “hell bent,” but that was the general idea.) We forget to honor and foster the wildness in ourselves and in our beloved, and this does a kind of slow violence to love. When I read that, I knew everything about O’Donohue that I needed to know. Even though I might never meet him, I understood that he was a friend.

He died unexpectedly last week, at the age of 53. I learned of his death this morning and, all day, in every quiet space I could find, I’ve been turning to his writing to honor the wildness and beauty that lived through him as he called us to wake up and see where we are and who we are:

Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits.

Sometimes, when you hear that someone who powerfully affected you has died, it feels as though part of their strength comes into you. I feel that way today, though it will take legions to lift up and blossom the joyful work O’Donohue left for us to do.

A few books by John O’Donohue:To Bless the Space Between Us (Doubleday, forthcoming in 2008); Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (Harper Perennial, 2005);Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (Harper Collins, 1998). You can find his website here.

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