Anger points to life

Fire is often used to portray anger. Anger burns and blazes. It inflames the human heart. But it can also be a subtle presence. It can turn totally inward and become depression. It can also hide under several guises. However, unlike resent­ment, which points to death, anger points to life. For oppressed people, or for oppressed dimensions within the individual life, the awakening and release of anger can be powerfully liberating. Anger is powerful because it has an immediacy, innocence and action in it. The reason that so much evil and corruption are allowed to destroy so many lives is that people’s anger is cleverly managed and quelled into indifference and powerlessness. One of the first targets of prophecy is to locate and kindle this forgotten and neglected anger. Part of the wisdom of living a creative and healing life is to learn the art of using this inner fire well.

John O’Donohue, ‘Fire: At Home at the Hearth of Spirit’, in: The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature

Things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath – and other thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book ‘Becoming Wise’

Here’s my final post offering thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise.

I was struck by this wise statement on community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which she quotes:

The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community wherever they go.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown

Brené Brown, one of Tippett’s interviewees, studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame – and has this to say about courage and vulnerability:

I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability. We buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.

Even more powerfully, she makes the point that:

the most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath.

Brown is well worth listening to, as she has demonstrated in her TED talks on The power of vulnerability and Listening to shame.

Lastly, Tippett addresses another important issue when she says:

There is a fine line between saving the world and manipulating other lives, however well-meaningly, in our own image.

And she reflects on Courtney Martin rejecting the notion that the world divides into ‘savers and those who need to be saved’. As Martin herself says:

Our charge is not ‘to save the world’ …. It is to live in it, flawed and fierce, loving and humble.


A sign of great insecurity

Two quotes from the diaries of Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell, better known as Anaïs Nin:

It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar, unwilling to explore the unfamiliar.

When we totally accept a pattern not made by us, not truly our own, we wither and die. People’s conventional structure is often a façade. Under the most rigid conventionality there is often an individual, a human being with original thoughts or inventive fantasy, which he does not dare expose for fear of ridicule, and this is what the writer and artist are willing to do for us. They are guides and map makers to greater sincerity. They are useful, in fact indispensable, to the community. They keep before our eyes the variations which make human beings so interesting.

From: The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955

Of spiritual rebels, untamable hearts and a God who is bigger than religion

Here is another instalment of thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise.

On religion or religiosity:

Certain kinds of religiosity turned themselves into boxes into which too little light and air could enter or escape.

On responses, throughout the centuries, to the Church having lost its way:

The wandering ascetic, eccentric sages known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the visionaries like Benedict or Francis or Ignatius of Loyola across the many centuries in which Catholicism was the only way to be Christian – they all emerged at a distance from a Church they experienced to have grown imperial, externally domesticated, and inwardly cold – out of touch with its own spiritual core.

Intriguingly – and rightly, in my judgement – Tippett sees the ‘nones’, those unaffiliated with any particular religion, as the modern-day equivalent to the mystics and monastics who, in earlier times, have called the Church back to its ‘spiritual core’:

The Nones of this age are ecumenical, humanist, transreligious. But in their midst are analogs to the original monastics: spiritual rebels and seekers on the margins of established religion, pointing tradition back to its own untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart.

I love the notion of religion’s ‘untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart’. Without this, we have little of real value to offer to our world.

And Tippett quotes former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflecting on the meaning of the divine name ‘hayah asher hayah‘, which he explains in transreligious terms:

Don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. Don’t think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

The great falsity of colonisation, the art of letting go – and some other thoughts from John O’Donohue’s ‘The Four Elements’

John O’Donohue is one of the most evocative writers I know. His books, his thoughts, his phraseology are like beautiful cathedrals to me, beautiful cathedrals made of words. Here are some passages from ‘Air: The Breath of God’, the first essay of The Four Elements.

John O'Donohue, The Four ElementsMost of the brutalization that occurs externally in the world is usually subsequent to a prior brutalization that has happened within the heart.

On fundamentalism:

One of the terrible deficiencies of most fundamentalism is that the … flow and risk of life get totally managed and programmed into categories.

Talking about Jesus, O’Donohue points out that ‘any place he appeared, his presence became a challenge’. A challenge, one might add, that is as unwelcome in institutionalised religion (the Church) today as it was at the time, a challenge we so often are quick to tame, contain or ignore.

I love these observations on territorial and spiritual colonisation:

We believe that salvation can only come from outside. This is the great falsity of colonization, be it territorial or spiritual. It robs the native land, or the native soul, of the sense of its own indigenous treasures and resources. Against all attempts at programmes and methods, the great art of holiness is to let oneself be.

And here is what O’Donohue has to say about religion vis-à-vis the truly inspired, the eternal:

Something inspired has the surprise, vitality and warmth of the eternal within it. … There is none of the deadness, seriousness or narrowness which affects so much religion and which has nothing to do with the eternal, but everything to do with the fears and competitiveness of the ego.

Finally, some words about loss, the art of letting go and receiving back a hundredfold:

We need to learn to be creative about loss …. The art at the heart of the mystical is letting go. If you learn to develop this art, you will receive back again a hundredfold everything you released. If you love something, let it go, and it will return to you. … This is the free art of presence in love and friendship. The Kingdom of God is about the transfiguration of Nothingness and loss into the fecundity of possibility.

The ‘fecundity of possibility’ – something to hope for and trust in, I suppose.

On death and life; surrender and buoyancy; hope, memory, dream and words

I thought I would add some reflections on yesterday’s quotes from John O’Donohue’s poems.

As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.

Death can be all pervasive at times, occurring in a variety of ways and reducing us to a shadow of our true selves, lessening, diminishing, stifling life. Against all this,  O’Donohue sets his evocation of our love of life, and he’s right, I think, about the urgency of this. Death is inevitable, but we need to be careful not to think and live ourselves into an ever darker place.

O’Donohue’s second poem talks about a surrendered life, a continuous belief ‘in the slow fall of ground’, an elegant swirling through all the unlikenesses we face on our pilgrimage. These are powerful metaphors. May we learn to be like that river he talks about. And may we acquire not only the humility of water, allowing ourselves to be shaped by things beyond our control, but also its buoyancy, which, as he puts it so well, is ‘stronger than the deadening, downward drag of gravity’.

In the third poem, ‘In Praise of Earth’, O’Donohue speaks of ‘an endless coma of cold’, which is a truly chilling metaphor. Life can feel like that at times, when all warmth appears to have evaporated. May we be like the earth, holding hope, storing fragments of the memory of warmer times, and may we see and feel the sun returning one day. May our cells, too, as O’Donohue says in the following lines, become ‘charged with dream’.

For me, these are deeply resonant, life-giving words. As the Gospel of John says, in the beginning was the Word. Where words dry out, life surrenders to death.

Love of life, heart and being, the downward drag of gravity, hope during an endless coma of cold, cells charged with dream – the beauty of John O’Donohue’s poetry

Another book that I find truly inspiring and refreshing is John O’Donohue’s The Four Elements. Here are some extracts from three of his poems quoted by his brother Pat in the foreword.

From ‘In Praise of Fire’

As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.

As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.

May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.

From ‘In Praise of Water’

The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling further
Towards the unseen ocean.

Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage

It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
With elegance

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it.

The buoyancy of water,
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity

From ‘In Praise of Earth’

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream,
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

Let us ask forgiveness of the earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.