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May 11, 2020
The winter and spring of 2020 will long be remembered as the season of “sheltering at home”, “lock downs” and “self-isolation”. Both the language and the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has called me to pick up a book I read years ago. For me, this season has been a good time to revisit the book, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, by John O'Donohue
John O’Donohue (1956-2008) is most remembered as the author of several books exploring Celtic spiritualty. An Irishman and Roman Catholic priest, he was also a philosopher, poet and artist. He was adept at describing the psycho-spiritual journey in a lyrical and inspirational fashion.
The book is a series of short reflections on the topics of longing and belonging, and the obstacles that prevent us from living fully into those experiences. He explores suffering as broken belonging, prayer as the bridge between longing and belonging and describes absence as where longing still lingers. While the book certainly explores the psyche, O’Donohue is more interested in the language and life of the soul. As he writes through the lens of Celtic spirituality, he examines dark forces, wounds and suffering while at the same time celebrating nature, mystery, myth and enchantment.
It is a book best read slowly and not necessarily in order. Since each reflection has its own title, I enjoy perusing the Table of Contents and reading reflections that claim my attention on any given day. Titles such as “Longing Keeps your Sense of Life Kindled” or “The Angel as the Artist of Your Transfiguration” or “A Prayer is Never Wasted” at first glance were intriguing. Yet reading the reflections offered an answer to a prayer, or a piece of guidance or affirmation that I needed at that precise moment. Never dry, the book is lightly sprinkled with stories, poetry and blessings which can also be read and pondered on their own.
The book is particularly meaningful now as he contrasts true shelter with the human tendency to create mental prisons based on fear, anger, the refusal to forgive, and certitude. His chapter on prayer (read meditation) is particularly helpful. The book ultimately speaks of to me of the importance of community and the affirmation that divine longing can transfigures the sense of loneliness and isolation.
It almost seems as if this book was written with the foreknowledge of this time of world pandemic with its fear and uncertainty. It has certainly lifted me up. It has encouraged me to embrace wonder in the midst of unknowing and restlessness. It has offered me balm for some of the wounds and anxiety I carry. Most of all it sings of the hope that this long winter will soon give way to the renewal of springtime.
About the Contributor
The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge is an East West Journal contributor and an Episcopal priest with thirty years of experience in ministry. She is a creative liturgist, spiritual guide, theologian and teacher. While grounded in traditional music, prayer, and scripture she delights in developing paths for spiritual seekers to enter into the worship space through Celtic Christian spirituality, labyrinth-work, and progressive Christian theology. She resides on Camano Island in Western Washington. Contact her here.
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