God is the greatest question

 

John O'Donohue

John O’Donohue

God is the most passionate presence in the universe. … there is not a stitch of utilitarianism or functionalism in God. … God surges and flows and is wild. 

This aspect of God’s vitality has been lost for so long with­in the tradition. … Aristotle’s idea of God as unmoved mover seemed to protect the transcendence of God by putting him safely beyond all change.

The danger of such a concept is that it deadens the deity. God is not a dead answer. God is the greatest question in the universe, a question that has kept itself free of banal answers. This is where all fundamentalists and sects get lost. They convert the passion, wildness and danger of God as a question into a clichéd answer ….

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

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.

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.