Sunday, 6 February 2011

John O'Donohue on Prayer

I was looking for something appropriate to include in the parish news sheet, and found the following extract from John O'Donohue's book Eternal Echoes. There is a notion in Celtic Spirituality that some places are 'thin places' where the membrane separating heaven and earth feels like it could just break open. Places like Holy Island and Iona are popular with pilgrims because that sense of holiness feels stronger.

I find that same quality in John O'Donohue's writing, such as this passage about prayer:

One of the most tender images is the human person at prayer. When the body gathers itself before the Divine, a stillness deepens. The blaring din of distraction ceases and the deeper tranquillity within the heart envelops the body. To see someone at prayer is a touching sight. For a while they have become unmoored from the grip of society, work and role. It is as if they have chosen to enter into a secret belonging carried within the soul; they rest in that inner temple impervious to outer control or claiming. A person at prayer also evokes the sense of vulnerability and fragility. Their prayer reminds us that we are mere guests of the earth, pilgrims who always walk on unsteady ground, carrying in earthen vessels multitudes of longing.
To sit or kneel in prayer is visually our most appropriate physical presence. There is something right about this. It coheres with the secret structure of existence and reality, namely that we have a right to nothing. Everything that we are, think, feel and have is a gift. We have received everything, even the opportunity to come to the earth and walk awake in this wondrous universe. There are many people who have worked harder than us, people who have done more kind and holy things and yet they have received nothing. The human body gathered in prayer mirrors our fragility and inner poverty and it makes a statement recognizing the divine generosity that is always blessing us. To be gathered in prayer is appropriate. It is a gracious, reverential and receptive gesture. It states that, at the threshold of each moment, the gift of breath and blessing comes across to embrace us.

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