Tag Archives: John O’Donohue

Scraping at the clay of your heart

John O’Donohue writes in Anam Cara, “It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of [the soil’s] darkness.” He writes of the importance of letting things that rise up in your soul sit for a while. If you were planting potatoes and someone told you that you needed to plant them deeper, it wouldn’t be so good to dig them up and replant them. Even worse if the next day someone else told you that you planted them too deep, so you dug them up again and planted them more shallowly. Nothing will grow if you keep scraping at your garden.

“People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are.” O’Donohue mentions that trees grow both up into the light and down into the darkness. “Negative introspection damages the soul… You cannot dredge the depths of the of the soul with the meager light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.”

We must be kind to ourselves. We must live the questions we have, as Reiner Maria Rilke writes, without seeking the answers too soon. (See the quote HERE) O’Donohue… “Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”

I have had to learn this through so many years, thanks to good mentors, spiritual directors, and teachers and many humbling experiences. As I look back on my writing from even five or six years ago, I see how much I tried to think my way through things. Questions, problems, faults, woundings… I was always looking for some answer that would make it all ok so that I didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. The hardest thing to hear was, “Ok, I will sit with this for a while” and then not hear anything for days or weeks. Or, “Well, Nate, I want you to stop thinking about what you should or shouldn’t do and sit with what your heart wants to do…”

I appreciate hearing people remind me to be kind to myself, but how did I do that? Even now, when I know I need to be kind to myself, it isn’t easy. Hearing it over and over, though, helps it to stick. And so sometimes, in the midst of the questions and the struggles, the best thing is some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or a morning with some really good coffee and bacon… or sometimes it is just going for a walk. If I can go to bed and remind myself, Nate, the problem will look different in the morning. Maybe better, maybe worse… but different. Let it sit and see what happens. This is how we keep from scratching too much at the surface of our souls. We live. We let up. We do something kind for ourselves. And we let  our hearts and our lives grow deep into the darkness and grow up into the light.

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The Celtic Soul

I have been contemplating the nature of the soul in Celtic Spirituality for quite some time now, and as I work my way slowly and thoughtfully through John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara, I am reminded again of this very precious and beautiful gem of history. Frank MacEowen also addresses this belief in The Myst Filled Path.

The Celts believed that the body was contained within the soul. The soul extends beyond our body and reaches out to connect with other souls. In fact, all things have soul. The trees in the forest, the mountains, the hawk soaring above, the fish in the river, even the rocks under foot. The Earth herself has soul. We can connect and communicate with the soul of the beings around us.

This is very foreign and strange to our Western ears, which for so many of us have heard that the soul is contained within the body. When we were born, a soul was put into our bodies. When we die, the body decays and the soul moves on. A bit like on Loony Tunes, when the white angelic spirit wisps away from the dead character. It is very Western to think in terms of body and spirit, or body and mind. O’Donohue writes that it is the soul that connects the body and the mind. It is the soul that is connected, and connects us to, God-in-all-things.

So I have been sitting with this for quite some time now… because it really is such an incredibly different way of seeing the world and God and myself and my connection to God. I am drawn to a more mystical expression of my Christian heritage. I am drawn to the wild places, the mystery places, the times between times when the veil is thin. I am drawn to knowing Christ in all things.

This notion of the body being contained within the soul changes so many things. I now am drawn to consider how I care for that soul that is holding and enlivening everything within it. I am now faced with that deep connection that I feel in the presence of my beloved or in the magic of the sun-kissed horizon. To do damage to the soul of another being is to do damage to my own soul. Implications… consequences… connections.