A Light That Shone in the Darkness

It was with great sadness that I learned of what I would term as the premature demise of the ex-Catholic priest and wonderful and poetic writer on spirituality, John O’Donoghue.  When I mentioned this to a friend she promptly replied ‘maybe his work here was done.’  I would like to believe that this is the case.  I never met John, even though I feel that each of us was very aware of each other’s work in coming to terms with our own demons and in creating opportunities for individuals to come to a place of a mature relationship with self, others and the world.  I do feel benefit of his presence.  Somehow, his work was a source of support, something that I could turn to in times of my own doubts, fears and insecurities.  His phenomenally popular book Anam Chara (Soul Friend) is an inspiration and John was one of the few writers on spirituality that deeply touched me.  There was a conviction to this writings in a language that is metaphorical and poetic.  For me, metaphor is the language of the sacred self that is each one of us.  From the moment of conception, that self is in relationship and that early relationship in the womb with the mother influences the overall wellbeing of that individual.  It is the relationship with others that determines to what degree a child will feel safe enough to reveal the sacredness and power beyond measure of his or her unique self.  When the holding of the child in the womb and later on in the family is of an unconditional and empowering nature, the child automatically expresses the awe-someness of his unique presence.  When this holding is not present, then the child wisely hides his presence and only later on as an adult, when he need no longer be dependent on others, does it now become possible to real-ise his true self; a task that is enormously challenging to each adult, as it is for me, and I’m sure was for John O’Donoghue.

John describes wonderfully this process of self-realisation.  He wrote about the person’s longing to belong:

‘Everyone needs to belong. We need to belong to a group, to a family and, particularly, to the place in which we work.

People are often disappointed or demeaned due to an over-belonging or an under-belonging.’

What John was referring to when he writes about an ‘over-belonging’ was the parent who suffocates the spirit and individuality of the child by living his or her life through the child.  An ‘under-belonging’ is again where the light of the child’s unique spirit is reduced or extinguished by the parent who sees the child as being there for him or her rather than being there to express his own wholeness.  John didn’t talk about a ‘no-belonging’ where the presence of the child is totally ignored or physically of sexually abused where the darkness is so great that it is very difficult for the light of love from another to penetrate it.  Great patience is required on the part of the other who is attempting to break through to the child or adult who has been so devastatingly abandoned.

Very wisely, John goes on to write ‘Never belong totally to anything outside yourself. You should never belong totally to any cause or system.  Where you belong should always be worthy of your dignity.’  How accurate this is.  He develops this when he says ‘Belong first in your own interiority.’  What John may not have appreciated is that when as a child your relationship experiences were of a nature where you did not dare reveal the fullness of self, that belonging to self, to one’s own interiority, is a monumental task and often requires a relationship with a professional carer who provides what has not been experienced up to this point in time – the unconditional holding, the non-possessive warmth and the enduring belief in the person’s capacity to belong to self and to become self-reliant.  Nevertheless, it appears to me that John understood precisely what it meant to know and belong to self.  He describes it beautifully as that solid interiority from which ‘nobody can distance, exclude or exile you.’

I would like to end these words on the loss of John, whose work and spirit I hope will continue to uplift us, with his own now apt words to describe our loss of him. It is called ‘On the Death of the Beloved’ in his recently published book Benedictus:

            ‘Your love was like the dawn

            Brightening over our lives,

            Awakening beneath the dark

            A further adventure of colour.

            Though your days here were brief,

            Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.

            May you continue to inspire us.’