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.

Let’s do absolutely nothing – the #NOTBUSY Lent campaign

Stephen Cherry, Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an HourPerhaps I should explain the new ‘I’m not busy’ badge in the top right hand corner of this blog. I read a little book by Stephen Cherry yesterday, which is part of a Lent campaign (see and a fascinating one at that. Lent is a time when Christians remember the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert. For many it is a time of giving things up. Traditionally, people would have given up certain foods, especially meat, during Lent, but these days it could be other things, such as social networking, to name only one example.

Cherry encourages us to give up busyness. Yes, that’s right, busyness!

His book, which is an ebook and a very quick read (apparently it’s the equivalent of no more than 41 printed pages), includes a number of helpful suggestions as well as a proper definition of the kind of busyness that Cherry thinks is unhelpful and even dangerous. One of his ideas is that we take 10–30 minutes each day doing absolutely nothing but living in the present and noticing the things around us. What a brilliant and truly counter-cultural suggestion!

Readers will have to turn to the book for more ideas and for Cherry’s thoughts on busyness and what he calls ‘time wisdom’, but here are some quotes on time and spirituality, the part of his book I most enjoyed, to whet your appetite:

… since time is a fundamental dimension and aspect of creation, spirituality connects us more realistically with time.

Busyness, in its new and chronic guise, is toxic to spirituality and to wellbeing precisely because it eliminates the possibility of the spiritual appreciation of the passing moment …

To give up busyness … is to seek to walk through the door of the present moment into the world of spiritual delights and challenges.