Program Particulars: The Inner Landscape of Beauty

January 26, 2012

Program Particulars

(01:36) O'Dohnohue's Final Work

John O'Donohue's latest book was published in 2008, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings.

Album art

(1:44) Music Element

"Lament for the Dead of the North" from Lament, performed by Davy Spillane


(7:49) M. Scott Peck

M. Scott Peck (1936–2005) was a psychiatrist and best-selling author of The Road Less Traveled. He opens the beginning chapter, Problems and Pain:

"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visted upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share."

(8:01) Opening from Anam C.ara

Following is the beginning paragraph of O'Donohue's book Anam C.ara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom:

"It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world. Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us. We take each other's sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions, and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the world together. Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible."

Album art

(9:18) Music Element

"Bean An Fhir Rua (The Red Haired Man's Wife)" from Water From the Well, performed by The Chieftains


(10:02) Reading of "The Song of Amergin"

Amergin was the chief poet and druid among the Milesians who is said to have recited this verse when they landed on the Irish shores, land they considered to be sacred:

I am the wind on the sea. I am the ocean wave. I am the sound of the billows. I am the seven-horned stag. I am the hawk on the cliff. I am the dewdrop in sunlight. I am the fairest of flowers. I am the raging boar. I am the salmon in the deep pool. I am the lake on the plain. I am the meaning of the poem. I am the point of the spear. I am the god that makes fire in the head. Who levels the mountain? Who speaks the age of the moon? Who has been where the sun sleeps? Who, if not I?

(15:48) Meister Eckhart

The German mystic Meister Eckhart (full name Johannes Eckhart von Hochheim, born c. 1260, died c. 1328) was a vicar and theology teacher who preached and wrote extensively about the relationship between people and God. He conceived of God as an infinite oneness, unity, and being, positing that all of God's individual creations are by nature "pure nothingness" in comparison to God. While he believed that those creations, including human beings, are nothing in and of themselves, he also believed that they can still derive being from God, or that they can in some sense be filled with God: "The spark in the soul is beyond time and space; the soul's light is uncreated and cannot be created, it takes possession of God with no mediation; the core of the soul and the core of God are one."

Eckhart was widely read by scholars in his lifetime, but he was eventually charged with heresy for some of his more radical mystical writings. In his own defense, he wrote, "I may err but I am not a heretic, for the first has to do with the mind and the second with the will!" He apparently died before Pope John XXII rendered a verdict on his writings (scholars aren't sure whether he died in 1327 or 1328), but the record shows that he recanted for those aspects of his writings that had been criticized.

Album art

(16:36) Music Element

"The Bright Lady" from Lament, performed by Declan Masterson


(16;53) Reading from Anam C.ara

The following passage is an extended version of the reading in the radio program. It is taken from the first chapter of O'Donohue's book, Anam C.ara:

"In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam c.ara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and c.ara is the word for friend. So anam c.ara in the Celtic world was the "soul friend." In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam c.ara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam c.ara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam c.ara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the "friend of your soul." The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship. In his Conferences, John Cassian says this bond between friends is indissoluble: "This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part." In everyone's life, there is great need for an anam c.ara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person's soul."

Album art

(24:42) Music Element

"Swan Lake, Op.20 / Act 3 - Danse russe (Moderato)" from Janine Jansen, performed by Janine Jansen and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


Album art

(26:45) Music Element

"Cam Ye By Athoil" from The Chieftains Collection: Rendezvous, performed by Celtic Fiddle Festival Orchestra


Album art

(1:44) Music Element

"Lament for the Dead of the North" from Lament, performed by Davy Spillane


(28:47) "What we are afraid of is not so much our limitations, but the infinite within us."

O'Donohue is paraphrasing a passage that is often attributed to Nelson Mandela: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." But while it is widely believed that Nelson Mandela included these words in his inauguration speech in 1994, in fact he never spoke them. The passage comes from the 1992 book A Return to Love by the spiritual author Marianne Williamson.

(30:20) "Deus intimior intimo meo."

O'Donohue quotes from Book 3, Chapter 6 of St. Augustine's Confessions:

Alas, by what stages was I brought down to the deepest depths of the pit, giving myself needless labor and turmoil of spirit for want of the truth: in that I sought You my God — to You I confess it, for You had pity on me even when I had not yet confessed — in that I sought You not according to the understanding of the mind by which You have set us above the beasts, but according to the sense of the flesh. Yet all the time You were more inward than the most inward place of my heart [intimior intimo meo] and loftier than the highest.

(30:28) "God is only our name for it. And the closer we get to it, the more it ceases to be God."

O'Donohue is alluding to Meister Eckhart's idea that it is impossible to really conceive of what God is, because to conceive of God is to think of God as a separate entity, whereas (in Eckhart's view) God is pure unity and oneness. In his German Sermon 83, Eckhart says of God, "You should love him as he is a non-God, a non-spirit, a nonperson, a non-image, but as he is a pure, unmixed, bright 'One,' separated from all duality; and in that One we should eternally sink down, out of something into nothing."

(31:04) "The glory of god is the human being fully alive."

O'Donohue quotes St. Irenaeus (c.120/140-c.200), the Christian Bishop who helped establish the early doctrines of the Christian church. In his book Against Heresies (c. 180), he attacked the Gnostic strain of Christianity that was flourishing at the time. Gnostics argued that the Hebrew Testament referred to a different God from the God of the New Testament, but Irenaeus established that the God of the Hebrew Testament and the New Testament were the same God. And at a time when different Christian sects preferred different gospels, it was Irenaeus who proposed that all four of the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John should be included in the Christian canon.

Album art

(35:22) Music Element

"Samhradh, Samhradh (Summertime, Summertime)" from The Chieftains Collection: The Very Best of the Claddagh Years, performed by The Chieftians


Album art

(37:02) Music Element

"An Draighneán Donn (The Blackthorn)" from Flame of Wine, performed by Lasairfhíona


(40:43) The Greek Root for the Word "Beauty"

In his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, John O'Donohue writes, "In Greek the word for 'the beautiful' is to kalon. It is related to the word kalein which includes the notion of 'call'. When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder if an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.

(43:50) Willie Sutton, the Bank Robber

Willie Sutton (1901-1980) was among the most famous criminals of the 1940s, known for having robbed dozens of banks without ever firing a shot. He was sometimes called "Willie the Actor" because he was a master of disguise, posing as a security guard, telegram messenger, police officer, diplomat, and a window cleaner. He escaped from prison three times, and claimed to have stolen a total of more than $2 million.

He had been on the run since a prison escape in 1947, when in 1952 he was spotted on a subway in Brooklyn by a 24-year-old man named Arnold Schuster. Schuster alerted the police and Sutton was arrested for the final time. He would spend the next 17 years in jail. Arnold Schuster got a lot of attention having helped the police catch the famous bank robber, and not long after the capture, Schuster was found brutally shot to death in the street. Sutton claimed he knew nothing about the murder, and no one was ever charged. But there was a rumor that the mob boss Albert Anastasia had seen Arnold Schuster interviewed on television and ordered the hit simply because the kid was a rat.

In his 1976 autobiography Where The Money Was, Sutton wrote," Arnold Schuster haunts me. Throughout my career I had plotted and planned my jobs to make sure that I would not have to hurt anybody, and now, after it was over and I was sitting in jail, a good-looking, promising young man had been killed because of me. The laughter of the gods."

(44:30) "Pick up something like Meister Eckhart…"

In his German sermon "The Kingdom of God is at Hand," Meister Eckhart wrote, "God is always ready but we are not ready. God is near to us but we are far from him. God is within; we are without. God is at home; we are abroad."

Eckhart also wrote, "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one eye, and one seeing, and one knowing and one loving."

Album art

(26:45) Music Element

"Cam Ye By Athoil" from The Chieftains Collection: Rendezvous, performed by Celtic Fiddle Festival Orchestra


(46:13) "When the canvas frays in the curach of thought"

The Gaelic word curach is the name of a traditional wooden rowing boat, covered with stretched animal skins or canvas, that originated on the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland.

Album art

(47:06) Music Element

"Taimse Im' Chodladh (I Sleep)" from Invisible Fields, performed by Iarla Ó Lionáird


Share Episode

Shortened URL

Voices on the Radio

O'Donohue was a poet and philosopher who wrote several books, including Anam Ċara and Conamara Blues. He died on January 4, 2008.