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.
This 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.”
Thoughts on Retreat
Krista Tippett, Host/Producer
I traveled this past weekend to the Guest House of St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. I’m about to head off on some travel for my book tour — part of me looks forward to this, part of me does not. It will be exciting and exhausting, and I have a speech to write. But really all that was an excuse to get back up to St. John’s, a place I visit periodically to get quiet inside. I did get a bit done on the speech, but more important than that I slept and read, prayed with the monks, and collected my thoughts.
Before I left Kate handed me a tiny book of poems by Freya Manfred. I’m nourished and kept alive by reading, and always have been. I came upon a couple of lines from Manfred that I’ll keep. The first is just half a line that puts fresh words to an underlying energy and tension of life that fascinates me — the concomitant separation and twining of what is personal and what is communal. Manfred refers to this as “our braided paths and solitary ways.”
I like this language. She also has a poem about fear, which I think about alot as a factor in our common life, religious and otherwise. Fear is the very human very powerful emotion that lashes out as anger, hatred, bigotry, violence. I try to hang on to this knowledge — difficult as it is in the face of real anger, hatred, bigotry, and violence — as a way to cultivate compassion as a primary virtue for moving through the world. Freya Manfred adds some poetic images to my cumulative store of intelligence:
Fear is a thirst for solid ground,
a cave and a fire,
with a way in, and a way out.
Fear is not always old,
but it’s always new.
When old, it can be ignored,
like the midnight keening in the houses of the sane.
When new, it’s nameless
something about to happen —
but all I can imagine.
Fear leaves and returns.
There are no words to keep it away.
If only there were words.
And yet, and yet — I persist in my faith that if we can at least name something — even the powerlessness of words in the face of the fearfulness in our world, we can begin to discern other ways together to approach and calm it.