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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
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Bringing Ancient Celtic Wisdom to Modern Confusions and Longings

by Krista Tippet, host

"It’s strange to be here," John O’Donohue wrote, referring to life. "The mystery never leaves you." And creating "The Inner Landscape of Beauty" was a lovely, if strange and mysterious, experience.

O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his books, including Anam Ċara — Gaelic for “soul friend” — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. I sat down with him in the fall of 2007 for a wide-ranging, two-hour conversation. Then just a few months later, before it could go to air, he died in his sleep, suddenly, at the age of 52. And so this hour of conversation has become a remembrance of him.

He would surely see this as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.

We ended the show with his reading of “Beannacht,” a poem of blessing he wrote for his mother upon the death of his father. A number of listeners who read and loved John O’Donohue’s work wrote to us after we posted this and other poems he read to me during our interview:

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets in to you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

And we’ve posted a pair of informative blog entries about our research into the beautiful, essential music for this show — including the style of Gaelic singing called sean-nos and the helpful contributions of an Irish listener from Belfast.

"Music," John O’Donohue said to me, "is what language would love to be if it could."

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The Harmonic Chaos of Icy Sidewalks with Rumi and John O’Donohue

by Charity Burns, guest contributor

In the wake of a recent blizzard, cars were buried in snow, curbs of intersections were submerged in a grimy soup, and sidewalks became paths of ice. One day I was rushing to work. The sidewalk appeared mostly clear, way more concrete than muddy slush. I passed a young woman in thermal boots that I thought was going much slower than necessary, and then, about half a block later, I slipped.

My mind had drifted, probably thinking about the coffee that I would have time to drink before work, when suddenly my thigh, then my torso, then my chin hit the pavement. It was a minor spill, more surreal than scary because it seemed to happen in slow motion. Nothing hurt, but as I slid and was pressing my mittened hands against the ice, trying to resist my fall, I almost laughed at my inability to stop myself. Then finally, the force of gravity propelling me ceased and I found myself kissing a Brooklyn sidewalk glazed with dirt and ice.

This experience reminded me of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, whom I have never really liked. Perhaps his poem has never found the right translator, but I’ve always found Rumi snoozerific and a bit pedantic. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to Rumi’s ideas and beliefs.

As many people know, Rumi was part of a mystical sect of Islam that celebrated its faith through a choreographed dance of spinning in long robes, the dancers known as whirling dervishes. As Fatemeh Keshavarz made clear about the Persian poet, this dancing was symbolic of the perpetual spinning of the universe and the idea that “everything in the universe is quickened with the force of love.”

The spinning dancers represented a willingness to be in harmony with the wonderful and wondrous chaos of the world. Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a Rumi lover, we share an appreciation of just how complicated each day on this Earth is, so many restless electrons, neutrons, atoms. Add to all that chaos the complicating fact that every person is a discreet planet, each subjected to its own ever-changing weather system of emotions, blizzards, heat waves, and drizzle. Every day we face the wildness of our own human experience.

And some days I am not able to whirl through all the wildness with the grace of an atom, or a dervish. Some days, I fall on the concrete on the way to work at eight in the morning because I wasn’t paying attention.

John O’Donohue, a poet from the west coast of Ireland who passed away a couple years ago, said before his death, “The world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” Rumi would agree that the world is spinning more wildly than we could ever fathom, but the Persian poet might then add that we need not fear because, if we fall, wherever we fall, there is love. You can’t fall wrong.


Charity BurnsCharity Burns is an English instructor and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has been published in Smartish Pace, Madison Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and West Branch, and she blogs regularly at The Beauty Works Project.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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John O’Donohue’s Ancient Celtic Wisdoms and Modern Longings: A Show of Remembrance

by Krista Tippett, host

John O'Donohue
photo: Will O’Leary

"It’s strange to be here," John O’Donohue wrote, referring to life. "The mystery never leaves you." And creating this show has been a lovely, if strange and mysterious, experience.

O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his books, including Anam Ċara — Gaelic for “soul friend” — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. I sat down with him in the fall of 2007 for a wide-ranging, two-hour conversation. Then just a few months later, before it could go to air, he died in his sleep, suddenly, at the age of 52. And so this hour of conversation (mp3, 51:00) has become a remembrance of him.

We’re putting his lovely, lively, exuberant voice out there in the world, as it touched so many the first time. And he would surely see this as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.

We ended the show with his reading of “Beannacht,” a poem of blessing he wrote for his mother upon the death of his father. A number of listeners who read and loved John O’Donohue’s work have written to us as we began to post this and other poems he read to me during our interview:

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the gray window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colors,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

Overlooking Fanore

And we’ve posted our research into the beautiful, essential music for this show — including the style of Gaelic singing called sean-nos and the helpful contributions of an Irish listener from Belfast.

"Music," John O’Donohue said to me, "is what language would love to be if it could."

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Beauty is not a luxury. It ennobles our hearts so we can see infinity within ourselves.
- —John O’Donohue, as tweeted by listener Lori Runkle (@ljtheraingirl) after listening to our program, "The Inner Landscape of Beauty," with the late Irish poet and philosopher.
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Expressing Our Inner Gifts
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

Yesterday I gave a final listen to this week’s show featuring the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue. I was struck in particular by his comments about work:

"I mean, we spend over one-third of our lives actually in the workplace, and one of the loneliest things you can find is somebody who is in the wrong kind of work, who shouldn’t be doing what they are doing but should be doing something else and haven’t the courage to get up and leave it and make a new possibility for themselves. But it’s lovely when you find someone at work who’s doing exactly what they dreamed they should be doing and whose work is an expression of their inner gift. And in witnessing to that gift and in bringing it out they actually provide an incredible service to us all."

I started to think about people who embody what O’Donohue describes — people who are living their right livelihoods. Tap artist Savion Glover quickly came to mind. I saw him perform last year in Minneapolis and was captivated. He is so precise, fluid, and joyful in his dance, as you can see in the video above.

Thinking some more, I wondered about people who live out their gifts but aren’t so famous. Then I remembered a traffic cop I used to admire when I lived in Brooklyn who exemplified grace, playfulness, and good humor as chaos and impatience swirled around him.

Who comes to mind for you: famous or not famous? How do you express your inner gifts through your work?

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View Anam Cara? in a larger map

Resting, and Remembering John O’Donohue, in Ireland

by Krista Tippett, host

I am back in the office after the first real extended period of rest I’ve had since we started producing SOF weekly six years ago. Esther Sternberg’s analogy of a “reboot” was completely apt. I had to shut down, in every way. My dear colleagues created the space in our collective work life for me to be able to do so. They changed my e-mail password (at my request), so I could break the habit of e-mail; it took me weeks to stop trying to log in, compulsively, practically in my sleep. I called this my e-mail sabbatical.

And I went back to a magical place, the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where I had gone once before, three summers ago, when I was finishing my book. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever experienced, but I was a crazy person on deadline.

Krista Drawing Water at the Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's RetreatThis time, I was able to soak up the beauty, to read as much as write, and write what gave me pleasure. I spent lots of time in a hammock on a little island that the locals call “fairies’ island” and that does feel utterly enchanted. I have always been drawn to islands and craggy places where you feel like you are on the edge of the world; and as you can see on this map, the Beara Peninsula qualifies.

I also enjoyed the friendship and cooking of the visionary owner/director of Anam Cara, Sue Booth-Forbes. Sue never met John O’Donohue, but [S]he named her retreat after his [John O’Donohue’s] book, Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend.” I learned about him from her, and this time was able to tell her all about the wonderful conversation I had with him, back in Minnesota, before his untimely passing.

I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty, especially in that place — recalling his observation that the Greek word for “beauty” is the same word for “calling,” for example, and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

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Forming My Imagination about “Speaking of Faith”

Krista Tippett, Host

I’m personally thrilled to be doing this week’s show — which took a few of us up to one of my favorite places in the world, St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. St. John’s is one of the largest Benedictine communities in the world and has always been a remarkable place. Its wide orbit has touched many lives and many leading institutions, globally.

In the 1960s, as St. John’s was founding HMML, it also helped found Minnesota Public Radio (our parent company) as well as an ecumenical institute that formed my imagination in the early years of what became this radio program. I came to think of St. John’s as a spiritual center of gravity and a kind of secret center of the world. It is certainly one of those “thin places” the ancient Celts spoke about — a place where, again and again and with astounding creativity, the temporal and eternal seem to touch.

If you’d like to read about the ways in which the Benedictines of St. John’s inspired and shaped Speaking of Faith, we’ve excerpted some of my writing about it in a PDF file for you.

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Your Help Is Our Musical Gain

Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Just a few notes regarding the songs on this week’s SOF Playlist. Thanks, to Padraig for his suggestion of Lasairfhiona Ní Chonaola’s music, which I was able to find and place in this week’s program. Also, many thanks to Gerard O’Shea who wrote about attending a John O’Donohue memorial in his blog. In which he mentions that at the end of the service a gentleman named Jack Carley got up and sang “The Vale of Fermoyle,” in the sean-nos style (see blog entry below for more info and a beautiful example). Fermoyle is the birthplace of John O’Donohue and this song was one of his favorites.

Anyway, Gerard ordered a copy of that CD on Tuesday and was kind enough to e-mail a version of that song to me the very same day. Hats off to Cois na h-Abhna, Dooras in County Clare for providing the CD, There’s a Spot in Old Ireland. Though I was not able to use that song in the program, I’ve included it as a bonus track on the show’s playlist.

I also just wanted to provide an excerpt of the lyrics to Iarla O’lionaird’s version of Taimse im’ chodladh, which I have found translated as “I Sleep” “I am Sleep” “I am Asleep”, but I think you get the gist. Thanks to Bill Jones’ website, which offers a translation of the Gaelic. Here is an excerpt:

I am sleeping, do not wake me
I hear you calling
Come back again, I’ll show you how
I am sleeping, do not wake me
The day is dawning
Come back again, don’t wake me now
Just look high and low, and search round the town
For the wildflower where we met the first time
If you pull the petals all the spell may be broken
Come back again, don’t wake me now

This song ends the program and I felt that this was a nice image of someone sleeping to round out the homage to John O’Donohue, not that I knew what the words meant when I was placing the song! Sometimes you get lucky. Anyway, that’s about it. I hope you enjoy the music.

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John O’Donohue’s Landscape

John O'Donohue in Ireland
Colleen Scheck, Producer

One of the exciting aspects of my job as a producer is the opportunities our web site opens up for multimedia content. As soon as we started producing this week’s program, I wanted our audience to be able to see the Irish landscape John O’Donohue described in his conversation with Krista. I desperately wanted to see it. I’m of Irish ancestry (75%!, I’d proudly tell people on St. Patrick’s Day as a kid, dressed in my Kelly green shirt with a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button), and someday I hope to make it to that emerald isle.

When I asked John O’Donohue’s business manager, Linda, if she had any photos of John in Ireland, she graciously offered to put out a request to friends and family. Within days I’d received over a dozen photos of both the Connemara region where John most recently lived, and some of Fanore, a town in County Clare where John attended elementary school, and where he is now buried. Will O’Leary, a veteran Washington Post staff photographer and close friend of John’s, shared some of his photos. His wife, NPR reporter Jacki Lyden, was also a close friend of John’s (she recently offered a remembrance of him on NPR’s All Things Considered). Another longtime friend and professional photographer, Nutan, shared photos he took of John in 2005.

In producing the audio slideshow, I was struck with how well the photos illustrated O’Donohue’s language in his poem “Beannacht” — a word I’ve heard translated as both “blessing” and “passage.” It’s about finding comfort in loss, and I consciously tried to match the photos to the poem’s tone, mood, and pace. I learned that John wrote this poem for his mother, Josie, at the time of his father’s death. According to Linda, his father “…was a farmer and a gifted builder of dry stone walls — a dying art still much revered — from whom, John’s brother Pat said at his funeral, John learned the art of fitting words delicately and fittingly together.”

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Poems of a Late Wandering Irishman

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

One thing we know about our fan base — they (you?) love words, especially poesy. The response to Tess Gallagher’s poem about her time with Thich Nhat Hanh made that clear.

So, in one of Krista’s limited face-to-face interviews (see Shiraz’s post about what a more typical interview looks like), she was regaled by the lilting tongue and picturesque poetry of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue in September. Mr. O’Donohue passed away earlier this year, but his verse lives on.

John O'Donohue
Colleen crafted a lovely audio slideshow (keep your eye out for her post) of O’Donohue’s recitation of “Beannacht” threaded with phototgraphs of scenic Celtic landscapes taken by several of his dear friends. And, since many of O’Donohue’s recitations won’t make it into the final, produced program, I wanted to offer them up here for download — or, if you prefer a more expedient and organized approach, through our podcast.

All of them are mp3s you can download. Just right-click your mouse and select save as:

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
A Blessing for One Who Holds Power
Beannacht
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: The Caha River
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Between Things
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Body Language
Since You Came
The Nativity

And, my apologies for all the parenthetical comments. Yowza!

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