May 10, 2012

Four Elements by John O'Donohue: Air



I'm not finished reading this book, but I thought maybe you could join me on this journey. I'm moving through this book slowly, as I have to with all O'Donohue's writings, because so much meaning is packed into so few words. I have to think on it for a while. I wonder if anyone else out there has the same experience.

If you are not familiar with John O'Donohue, you might want to start by reading his popular book Anam Cara. An Irish poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue passed away suddenly in 2008 at the age of fifty-two. Four Elements, Refections on Nature, was published after his death using material from a series of essays he wrote on the four elements. (Click on the book cover to order.)

He loved the natural landscape of his home in the west of Ireland. I also recommend the DVD A Celtic Pilgrimage where you can see the landscape and follow O'Donohue as he leads pilgrimages in Ireland.

But back to the book at hand. After the forward, which is not to be skipped as it serves as an introduction and contains some poetry, the first element explored in this book is air. He begins by talking about us as individuals and our sense of the world that is right around us. Some passages from the book that I highlighted:

All that happens to us remains somehow alive inside us. We do not lose anything. What we have done to ourselves, we also carry. Our memories are different from the memories of all other selves...The place where an event or experience falls is a different place in each consciousness.


We live in a world of air. Space is all around your body. One of the constituents of our freedom is that we can move through space.


It is air that gives us space and makes it possible for us to move. Without movement there is no life possible.


One of the lonely aspects of space is distance. Each individual is unavoidably involved with distance. When you are born you come out into empty space. When your perception is born, it creates an empty space around you. The real difference between people has little to do with where one is or the interests that one has, or the so-called class to which one belongs. The real difference consists in the different species of perception that is active in an individual.


The eye is the mother of distance. When you open your eye you see the distance and space between you and every other object and person.


(Speaking of humans) They are in-between spirits, made out of clay and air. They have the earthen frame and the clay feet. But their inner world seems to be composed more of the air element....This is where individuality emerges, here in this in-between  world....Humans are literally grounded. Their earthen feet hold them to the ground.

To me this speaks of the spirit. God is spirit, we are spirit. But, as he says, literally grounded. I think that's why prayer and meditation on God's Word and on God's creation are so uplifting, speaking to spirit. But I admit, such deep philosophical thoughts are usually beyond my comprehension. What do you think???

Note: This book was provided to me without charge by the publisher, Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, with the purpose of providing an independant review.

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