This year, in the midst of a very busy month, my birthday came and went without the traditional celebration. It was certainly not an ordinary day. In fact, it was a little too exciting. I spent the day at an out-of-town event and for some reason ran into several minor crises and unpleasantries along the way. In the midst of all the hubbub, the occasion of my birthday was lost and the turning of another year occurred without much commemoration.
In the time since this birthday had passed, I had reflected on its absence as a missed friend, sorry that I had not had a chance to spend time with it while it was near.
Time went on yet this sentiment remained with me as another year of my life was unfolding when I picked up a new book of blessings written by the Irish poet John O'Donohue. Interestingly enough, the first page that I opened to was entitled For Your Birthday. I looked again closely to be sure of what I was reading, and then read on.
Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth...
"How beautiful," I thought as I read. And what a gift.
There was more. I kept reading. As I came to the end I found:
...Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.
On this echo-ing day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul:
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.
Reading these poetic words, in the form of a blessing, gave food to my soul - the soul that had been harried and rushed through a milestone of life meant to be counted and tasted and treasured.
In the process of learning about the history of my family, I have often made a point to remember the birth and death dates of family members who have passed before me. Yet, here I had not taken the time to commemorate my own birthday properly. What a gift these words were which reminded me to do so, and to open my eyes to the "gifts that I never notice" and to the possibility of "harvesting the memory of vanished days", as John O'Donohue put it.
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings is the concrete result (if poetic sentiments such as these can be considered concrete) of his belief in the importance of stopping and recognizing the meaning behind each of life's thresholds and journeys. O'Donohue provides food for the soul for those facing various crossroads in life: beginnings (such as starting a new day), desires (for friendship, for love...), thresholds (for a new father, for old age...), states of heart (for grief, for failure, for loneliness), callings (for marriage, for work...) and more. Special blessings that I thought interesting were "For the Artist at the Start of the Day", "For Love in a Time of Conflict", and "For Someone Awakening to the Trauma of His or Her Past".
Perhaps my favorite is O'Donohue's soul-touching blessing "For a Mother-to-Be". I don't believe that I have ever read words that describe the experience of motherhood so perfectly as these do. Now just how did he know? Here is an excerpt:
Nothing could have prepared
Your heart to open like this.
From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside you
And started to pulse with life,
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes
On its way home to itself.
What an amazing look at the gift of a child's new life and his or her tie with their own mother, father and ancestors. O'Donohue's blessing to the new mother goes on:
Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known...
...May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy
From the continuous music of your heart,
So that it can grow with ease,
Expectant of wonder and welcome
When its form is fully filled
And it makes its journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved, and glad in your arms.
The tremendously insightful words of O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings have broadened my understanding of the importance of the Celtic tradition of offering blessing. Almost everyone who knows anything about Irish culture is familiar with common Irish blessings. Probably the most famous is:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
John O'Donohue, by renewing the tradition of the Celtic blessing through his new book, has given us a fresh reason to remember to take time to mark and savor the thresholds on the journey of life.
Now for me to get this new day, threshold that it is, off to the right start.
Sadly, John O'Donohue passed away unexpectedly in January 2008. The loss of this fine Irish poet will be felt sorely throughout the world and in his home of Connemara in the west of Ireland.
For more information about O'Donohue's life and other writings, see his official website.