John O’Donohue, The Celtic Imagination

Mary Magdala Community

For those who, in search of unfrozen fresh air, opened the windows today, March 14 – first time since December – this seer’s take on imagination:

John O’Donohue, The Celtic Imagination in Beauty: the Invisible Embrace, p.132f

“Because we tend to see our experience as a product, we have lost the ability to be surprised by experience, the sense of the mind as a theatre where interesting sequences of complex drama are played.  Whether we like it or not, the depths in us are always throwing up treasure.  For the awakened imagination there is no such thing as inner poverty.  It is interesting how contemporary English has the phrase: ‘to have and experience’, with the suggestion of possession, property and ownership.  In the folk culture of the Celtic Imagination, experience was not a thing to be produced or to be owned.  For the Celtic Imagination the focus was more on the experience as participation in something more ultimate than one’s needs, projection or ego: it was the sacred arena in which the individual entered into contact with the eternal.  Experience in this sense was an event of revelation.  In such a world, experience was always lit by spirit; the mind was not a closed compartment ‘processing’ its own private impressions, the mind always had at least one window facing the eternal.  Through this window wonder and beauty could shine in on a life and illuminate the quiet contents where mystery might be glimpsed.  A person’s nature was revealed in experience; it was also the place where gifts arrived from the divine.  Naturally, experience was one’s own and not the experience of someone else.  However, it was understood as being much more than the private product and property of an individual.  Expressed in another way, there was a sense that the individual life was deeply woven into the lives of others and the life of nature.  The individual was not an isolated labourer desperately striving to garner a quota of significance from the world.

In the intuitive world-view of the Celtic Imagination, the web of belonging still continued to hold a person, especially when times were bleak.  In Catholic theology, there is a teaching reminiscent of this.  It has to do with the validity and wholesomeness of the sacraments.  In a case where the minister of the sacrament was unworthy, the sacrament still continues to be real end effective because the community of believers supplies the deficit.  It is called the ex-opere-operato principle.  From the adjacent abundance of grace, the Church fills out what is absent in the unworthiness of the celebrant.  Within the embrace of folk culture, the web of belonging supplied similar secret psychic and spiritual shelter to the individual.  This is one of the deepest poverties in our times.  That whole web of ‘betweenness’ seems to be unravelling.  It is rarely acknowledged any more, but that does not mean that is has ceased to exist.  The ‘web of betweenness’ is still there but in order to become a presence again, it needs to be invoked.  As in the rainforest, a dazzling diversity of life-forms complement and sustain each other; there is secret oxygen with which we unknowingly sustain one another.  True community is not produced; it is invoked and awakened.  True community is an ideal where the full identities of awakened and realized individuals challenge and complement each other.  In this sense both individuality and originality enrich self and others.


A Prayer  (JR)

The nod to Seamus Heaney’s “Postscript

Today, or some day, Ruler of High Heaven, may we rest, or maybe take a drive to the “coast of Clare along the flaggy shore.”

The sights we’ll see will transfigure us in your creation’s gifts of life and of love.

We will be neither here nor there, since it’s not events that shake us,

but pure vision of you in us and us in you..

This trip we are on to Easter joy is driven

by the wind and the light

of your example and our witness

that love and peace are the fruit

of service and justice.

Praise to the Guide of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the One.



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