O’Donohue

I decided while in Kauai last week to give a second reading to John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara. I often manage to interrupt the flow of a writer’s words through abrupt starts and stops in my reading pattern. The only way I might ever be able to fix this problem would be to acquire only one book at a time, read it, then remove it from my sight before I begin another. Since I am unable to do that, and like reading books, the next best thing is to stay focused by reading one book at a time from start to end, without all this jumping around that causes me to own many books that are only half completed. The other tactic I attempt to deploy is to simply obtain fewer books. Last winter when the house was under remodel and I needed to pack up and move stuff out of it, I donated hundreds of books to a charity shop near Monterey. Painful as it was to let go of them, I knew I would never get them read. I would look at them and think of myself as being lazy or incomplete. Now I am buying back the ones I miss most and know I will read. My first choice is to have them on my Kindle, so that they cannot stare back at me and fill me with negative thoughts.

I read O’Donohue on the beach in Kauai, on the airplane coming home, and in the mornings and afternoons while sitting beside my outdoor warming fire. The last time I read Anam Cara I believe my reading pattern was much more scattered. I sometimes become gripped with a book right from the beginning, and set it down on purpose because I know I do not have the time to complete it, and so I say to myself that I will not pick it up until I can foresee enough time in my schedule to do the author some justice. Less frustrating for me, but this also allows me to more fully absorb the writer’s message. Since I tend to not read for entertainment, but more to learn to appreciate beauty and to become inspired, the reading tends to center around philosophy, religion, wisdom literature, or poetry, and less in the realm of fiction or science. If I knew I had a lot more years ahead of me I might wander more into other realms of reading, but these days I see the need to stay focused on the writing that speaks most directly to me.

Anam Cara does that for me. O’Donohue’s work is gentle in spirit, enlightening, inspiring, graceful, rhythmic, natural, inclusive, and I could toss in several other adjectives that I might not normally ascribe to the workings of a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood to become a full-time writer, I understand, and I would guess to understand spirituality in less traditional and familiar terms. Thus Anam Cara’s theme centers around O’Donohue’s roots in Celtic traditions and literature. Anam Cara is Celtic for “soul friend”. O’Donohue’s book serves as a sort of soul friend as it guides one through the cyclical events that unfold in one’s life, allowing one to understand the life to be lived between birth and death in ways that ancient Celts understood these events, but O’Donohue also provides insight into what is common between the ancient and modern belief systems of western civilization, such that I do not need to be immersed in Celtic beliefs and customs in order to understand his message.

Since I have it now on my Kindle it will not get hauled off to a donation shop and may actually get read by me once again. In a second full reading I might more easily pick out some of the substructure that underlies the book, but for now, reading and thinking over his words at more of a surface level, I see much that I can learn from his ideas and apply to my own life. Here’s a quote:

Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance toward your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now your life is unimaginable without them. Similarly, your identity and vision are composed of a certain constellation of ideas and feelings that surfaced from the depths of the distance within you. To lose these now would be to lose yourself.

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