Tuesday, 19 August 2008
We have spectacular landscapes here in the West of Ireland. Everywhere, dark mountains preside. It is also a landscape singularly unburdened by California-style sunshine. We enjoy generous endowments of rain, fog and mist. Sometimes, when the fog comes down, the mountains disappear completely. More interesting is when you awaken on a day when the fog has come halfway down the mountain, making the top of the mountain invisible and rendering the stem of the mountain strong and lucent. It is fascinating to stand under the mountain then, and experience the summit as absent. Though you know it is still there near you, you can no longer claim it with the eye. I always find this to be a thrilling experience of the power of the imagination. Like the mountains around every life, huge adjacencies preside, presences that remain invisible to the eye.
You have never seen your own face. You cannot see your thoughts, which shape your mind and world, and you have never seen the inner world hidden behind the faces of those closest to you. You cannot see the future that is already claiming you and you cannot see the divine, so the invisible world holds our deepest treasures and it is only through the gift of the imagination that we can sense these adjacent worlds and cross over their thresholds. The imagination is the great friend of possibility. For the alert and awakened imagination, possibilities always beckon towards new pathways of creativity, belonging and love. Each of us has been created by the Divine Artist, made in the image and likeness of the Divine Imagination. When we become creative, we approach holiness. The imagination knows that it is at these thresholds that new worlds rise into view. At last, we abandon the repetitive safety of the predictable and risk ourselves into the adventure of the unknown.
There is a sublime wildness in God that calls us to risk becoming who we dream and have long been dreamed to be. The Divine Imagination has no time for the closed and the finished. To each of us is given an unfinished, open-ended world and spirituality is the adventure of attention, to which its secret and sacred forms begin to emerge. More often that not, the language of religion falsifies the subtlety of Divine Presence and Imagination, and labels and names mislead us into the bland territories of the obvious. Often, when you wake in the middle of the night, unprotected, uncertainty finds you. The role an name you wear during the day, the things you do, what you have achieved, who others hold you to be, all of that seems so far away now. You feel alone, a stranger in the world. Though disturbing, such moments of dangerous knowing draw us deeper into who we really are and why it is that we are here. It helps us become aware of the subtle, but secret, order of Divine Providence that guides our ways and our days. This helps us realise even in dark times how light is kept alive in the world. It awakens us to the beauty of goodness.
Around us all the time is the invisible presence of the unknown saints, people who bring goodness alive. We will never know their names, for they live far from the world of image and headlines, yet through the dignity of their kindness, they keep the humane tissue of a culture alive and vital. Each day we awaken, unknown kindness supports and shelters us. These are the gifts we never see directly, yet their presence makes life bearable. Their endurance prevents the house of the mind from becoming a haunted ruin.
The great Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue, who died suddenly earlier this year. Transscribed from a BBC programme