THERE WAS a day in January 2008 when suddenly the valleys, streams, rivers, and lakes of Connemara and the Burren lost their colour and blackened, when the silent music of the stones, hills, and mountains abated for just a moment, for at that moment, in far off Italy one of the few men who fully understood their physical and spiritual presence experienced, to quote his own words,
“...a very beautiful meeting between you and yourself and then you go into the invisible kingdom where there is no more darkness, suffering, separation, or sadness, and where you are one with all those that you love in the seen world and in the unseen world. Death in that sense is a time of great homecoming, and there is no need to be afraid.”
While this quote may epitomise John O’Donohue’s legacy, so could hundreds of others to be found in Walking on the Pastures of Wonder: John O’Donohue In Conversation with John Quinn, to be published later this month by Veritas Publications. It features conversations Quinn had with O’Donohue over a five year period and which were later broadcast in various programmes.
In his introduction Quinn tells us: “When John O’Donohue died suddenly in January 2008, he left a deep void in the hearts and minds of many people. For more than a decade prior to his death, his writings, talks and broadcasts had done much to feed the ‘unprecedented spiritual hunger’ that he had observed in modern society. His books on Celtic spirituality were bestsellers; his broadcasts and talks tapped into the needs of the sizeable audiences that tuned into them”.
In a beautifully paced foreword, Pat O’Donohue, John’s brother, tells us that his sibling’s “life cannot be encompassed within the one act of birth, life and death. He was not a finite act that existed and is now lost for evermore. He is a story that is written, spoken and lives amongst us. Just as we are and continue to be.”
The overwhelming success of this book is that it is what it says it is - a series of conversations. These conversations are alive and include the full engagement of the reader. Indeed those of us who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing John in his lifetime will find ourselves renewing, enjoying, and being further enriched by these conversations as we were by the ones held yesteryear, as though nothing has changed.
This is due to the subtle, sensitive, and inspirational translation of the spoken word to the printed page word by Quinn and to the fact O’Donohue, through these conversations, is rediscovering the nature of, not just the inner spirituality of human beings, but the spirituality that is ever present in the physical world.
Another surprising, and delightful, element of this book is that despite the fact it is made up of several different conversations that took place across five years, there is a continuous narrative throughout which culminates in what O’Donohue calls the final balance between the outer physical human being - you - and the inner spiritual being - yourself. It is in the consummation of these two different, though similar, presences, the final balance which is achieved at the point of death that the human being fulfils its destiny and enters into the eternal presence of a happy, joyful, and laughing God. It is an eternity open to all, no matter how the individual person sees his/her way to being there, and is echoing an old saying often used by my own father when speaking of someone whose life was seen at the time to be rather unconventional: “Sure, he is finding his own way to God.”
Walking on the Pastures of Wonder is a fresh well from which the thirsty pilgrim can drink at leisure and be refreshed.
– Galway Advertiser, 5 March 2015
This book is, as O'Donohue's brother Pat nails it in the foreword, essentially a conversation: primarily between the late philosopher-poet and the former RTÉ radio producer, John Quinn, but truly between O'Donohue and the reader. Through a series of interviews (and a 1997 Open Mind lecture) conducted on a mountainside, a bar in Connemara, an office on Grafton Street and a studio in Donnybrook, Quinn's questions become a conduit for O'Donohue's thoughts. The philosopher's free-wheeling imagination is deliberately unedited by Quinn and much of what's here is previously unpublished. It is a book of wonder, inspiration, prescience ("Politics seems devoid of vision and is becoming more and more synonymous with economics") and no little comfort. And as you read, you realise that it prompts the greatest conversation of all, the one within the reader's own imagination.
– RTÉ Guide, March 21-27, 2015
John O’Donohue has probably sold more books since his sudden and untimely death in 2008 than he ever did in his lifetime. In an age when an awful lot of people are fed up with organised religion, but describe themselves as “spiritual”, his writings are immensely popular.
Anam Cara, Eternal Echoes and Divine Beauty were international bestsellers, as was his last work, Benedictus, and as works that always verge on mysticism, and frequently plunge deep into it, their success is proof of what he called the “unprecedented spiritual hunger”of modern society.
This collection comes from a series of conversations and radio broadcasts with John Quinn, who was a staple of RTE radio for years with programmes that credited their listeners with intelligence and curiosity.
The subjects range from Wonder, and how we can open our hearts to it, to Landscape, Absence and the Dawn Mass. Quinn credits O’Donohue with the revived tradition of the Dawn Mass on the morning of Easter Sunday. Here in Tuam it is celebrated at Lavally Lake; according to Quinn, the first modern Dawn Mass was at the ruined Corcomroe Abbey in Clare in 1990 or 1991.
There is a chapter on Meister Eckhart, the German priest and mystic who was condemned as a heretic after his death, but is revered now.
One of O’Donohue’s comments in this chapter is very telling: “I suppose one of the things institutional religion does is to have a few ‘official tamers’ on hand in case the divine thing wakes up in too wild a way.”
There was a big element of wildness in O’Donohue too: a native of the Burren, he loved the mountains. He was a great fan of the Good Friday pilgrimage to Maméan in Conamara (which takes place again this week) and comments that “one way of reviving liturgy” would be to bring it out into the landscape and allow “the elemental force of the landscape to clothe the liturgy again with sensuous texture and enable us to come in”.
The book moves on to concluding chapter on ageing and death, and offers consolation to those who dread both, with comments like “old age is a time of great freedom”. To resort to a cliché my old teacher would abhor, there is much food for thought in this book, and it can be read a few pages at a time.
– The Tuam Herald, 1 April 2015