Beyond every safe frontier

And some final thoughts on longing from John O’Donohue’s essay on fire.

This is the longing in all spirituality: to come in out of the winter of alienation, self-division and exile and into the hearth of warmth and at-one-ment.

… the fire of longing is what confers life. This longing brings one beyond every safe frontier. It is in the giving of oneself to the fire that ultimate transfiguration and renewal comes.

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


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.

Lovers as artists – and the inner landscape of beauty

Here are some passages from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, passages that struck, inspired, challenged me.

Krista Tippett, Becoming WiseIn connection with the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, she mentions his belief in ‘the possibility of creating our own inner landscapes of beauty, to keep us vital in the midst of bleak and dangerous surroundings and experiences’, a need that, as many of us know only too well, may arise at any time.

Talking about the work of philosopher and L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, she quotes his vitally important vision ‘to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves’ rather than, as is so often the case, to subject them to a preconceived agenda, whatever that may be.

And she quotes john a. powell, Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies, who notes that:

people are looking for community, right now, though we don’t have confidence in love. We have much more confidence in anger and hate. We believe anger is powerful. We believe hate is powerful. And we believe love is wimpy. And so if we’re engaged in the world, we believe it’s much better to sort of organize around anger and hate.

Lovers, by contrast, as Tippett herself points out are artists who are ‘reaching out to enemies, embracing complexity, creativity, and risk’.

Lastly, here are some words from geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon, also taken from Tippett’s book, words whose truth I have come to know in my own experience:

once you enter into this way of, I would call it companionship, walking with the suffering person who has come into your life and whom you have not rejected, your heart progressively gets educated by them. They teach you a new way of being.

We have to be educated by the other. My heart cannot be educated by myself. It can only come out of a relationship with others. And if we accept being educated by others, to let them explain to us what happens to them, and to let yourself be immersed in their world so that they can get into our world, then you begin to share something very deep.

The one and only test

The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience or devotional practice [is] that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine [makes] you kinder, more empathetic and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness this [is] good theology. But if your notion of God [makes] you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it [leads] you to kill in God’s name, it [is] bad theology.

Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase

Tsimtsum and the coming into being of the other

Scan0001Henri Nouwen, in The Wounder Healer, quotes James Hillman, who talks about the Jewish mystical doctrine of Tsimtsum, noting that

God as omnipresent and omnipotent was everywhere. He filled the universe with his Being. How then could the creation come about? … God had to create by withdrawal; He created the not-Him, the other, by self-concentration … On the human level, withdrawal of myself aids the other to come into being.

Nouwen elaborates:

when we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song and speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating.