Thursday, October 7, 2010

Death and Ireland

Just recently, I learned of the fine work of John O'Donohue through the DVD "A Celtic Pilgrimage." This film has tempted me to return to the west of Ireland to see more of the wild and ancient landscape that made him who he was.

The sad news--and there is always something sad about Ireland--is the John died at 52 just over two years ago. He left behind a beautiful legacy of poems and books and people whom he influenced. He wrote, "The greatest privilege of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul."

He spoke eloquently of death, as if he were aware that his life would soon come to an end: Death, he said, is an invitation to freedom, a great letting go. "If you really live your life to the full, death will never have power over you." We can stop fearing it, he believed, if learn to let go of things, living spiritually with greater openness and generosity.

As I think back to the unforgettable Irish landscape on the Dingle peninsula, with its ancient stone huts, you know without being told that you are in a land with a continuous civilization going back 9,000 years, one recorded in stones of various shapes and colors taken from the earth to build walls, forts, churches, castles, and tombs. These stones, most of them born several hundred million years ago, bear witness to the millions who died of starvation, especially in the 19th century, and of the countless farmers (including my maternal ancestors) who fled that rocky terrain to the corners of the world.

John O'Donohue gave testimony to this land and its enduring power. I wish I'd met him earlier.

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