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

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.

The forgotten astonishment

the invisible walls,
the rotten masks that divide one man
from another, one man from himself,
they crumble
for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive

From Octavio Paz’s long poem Sunstone / Piedra de Sol.

Very bad news for competitive blokes

Some admittedly rather varied passages from Julian Barnes’s book Nothing to Be Frightened Of:

The notion of redefining the deity into something that works for you is grotesque.

Here’s one that made me laugh:

We can compare the number of synapses that fire during the female and the male orgasm – very bad news for competitive blokes …

Barnes complains about the bureaucracy that has replaced folklore in hospital dying and tells the following story:

Registering my mother’s death, I was dealt with by a woman with a metronomic delivery and no skill – or luck – in human contact. All the details had been given, the signatures provided, the duplicate copies obtained, and I was rising to leave when she suddenly uttered four soullessly otiose words in a dead voice: ‘That completes the registration.’ She used the same mechanical tone employed by the humanoid bosses of the Football Association, when the last of the ivory balls has been drawn from the velvet bag, and they announce, ‘That completes the draw for the quarter-final round of the FA Cup.’


Love recklessly

Some quotes on love and forgiveness from Francis Spufford’s recent book Unapologetic:

If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place the violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.

God … wants us to love wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love people we don’t even like; people we hate; people who hate us.

We’re supposed as Christians to go out and love recklessly, as God does. We’re supposed to try and imitate Jesus in this, and to be prepared to follow love wherever it goes, knowing that there are no guarantees it’ll be safe, or that the world will treat such vulnerability kindly. ‘Take up you cross and follow me,’ says Jesus … risk everything, even death. Take love’s consequences.

We’re supposed to see God’s willingness to mend, to forgive, to absorb and remove guilt, as oceanic; a sea of love without limit, beating ceaselessly on the shores of our tiny island of caution and justice, always inviting us to look beyond, to begin again, to dare a larger and wilder and freer life. But it is possible to shrink it instead into something like a Get Out of Jail Free card, to be played by God only very occasionally in a game otherwise dominated by the same old rewards and punishments, human justice writ large all over the cosmos.