Jan 12 2017

John O’Donohue – For Light

Published by at 11:13 pm under Poetry

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

— from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue


/ Image by Darren Bertram /

After the holidays I have been having difficulty getting back into a regular rhythm of work and poetry and life in general. Do I need to refocus? Should I intensify my spiritual practice? Fast for a day or two? Should I be spending more time with poetry and writing, or should I let it sit until it bubbles up inside me? Do I push or do I putter?

There’s a part of me that starts to spin in agitation when I feel like the rhythm of my life has shifted and I don’t know my next step. But then there is also a nameless part of my awareness that finds a certain pleasure at resting in that uncertain space. That feeling of being out of sync and uncomfortable, as if I’m an alien in the center my own life, is also an opportunity to forget what it means to be “me.”

It can feel like a period of darkness, but it also allows us to see by a new light. When our accustomed patterns of feeling and activity shift, there is a period of time before we settle into the forward focus of new rhythms when the alleyways and secondary spaces of our lives become visible. Some of these are the most fascinating quirks of who we are. Here we may find troubled spaces, secret wounds, but also immense creativity, playfulness, and forgotten treasures and inner life.

O’Donohue’s poem seems like the perfect meditation. Light and darkness. The illumination of awareness and the shadow that allows us to see what is missed in the glare of too much light. How both shadow and light reveal in different ways. How light can be gentle or harsh, how the light and the dark can interact to shape the quality of the light and affect not just what we see but how we react to what is seen.

And just as important as seeing is how we choose to see.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>


John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

John O’Donohue is an inspiring Irish philosopher, poet, mystic who passed away unexpectedly in early 2008.

John O’Donohe had degrees in philosophy and literature. His writings, though grounded in academic philosophy and theology, are immediate, personal, very human. He was as much a mystic and a poet as a contributor to philosophical dialog.

Much of his writing and poetry drew deeply from Irish Celtic perspectives, both in Christian and pre-Christian wisdom, while speaking to a widely diverse, modern audience.

More poetry by John O’Donohue

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “John O’Donohue – For Light”

  1. James Reeveson 13 Jan 2017 at 9:41 am

    Hello Ivan.

    Your comments fit exactly with my thoughts and experience of this moment. There is so much change and uncertainty in our world just now.

    I would think mainly of long periods of quiet time alone: not trying to solve anything.

    Sometimes just “doing” something, almost anything, helps. E.g., cleaning out the shed or refrigerator, giving away stuff, going through my closet and keeping my favorite five or ten or twenty shirts, etc. and giving rest to Goodwill. I play a game: if I have to give away all but five shirts; which ones would I keep. Or ten or whatever. Works sometimes.

    I had the pleasure and honor of spending a couple of weeks with John O’Donohue many years ago. Each day, he would say”let’s have a grand feast today.” and we always did.

    Thank you for your work

  2. Johananon 13 Jan 2017 at 2:38 pm

    YEh, “llet’s have a grand feast today!”and if you’re looking for something to do,go visit http://www.artpal.com/artorgaz.

  3. Carolon 14 Jan 2017 at 7:04 am

    Thank you Ivan for sharing this beautiful poem by John O’Donahue. It is always
    amazing to me how you are able to pick the right poem for the time – and this one
    certainly fits this time. Also your commentary and Thought for the Day are so
    meaningful. John O’Donahue’s poems are beautiful and thoughtful and we miss him.

  4. Christineon 17 Jan 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Ivan, I have been experiencing this same sense of agitation, alienation, and “disorientation”, unable to find that Rhythm again… Very disconcerting. At first I thought it was because I have been sick with the flu and my body is just so out of whack. But I also think it is partly due to the collective chaos many of us are feeling about the upcoming changes in our government that have destabilized everything, including the world, and raised a lot of fear in people. This line in the poem seems particularly appropriate: “…never trust in minds claimed by empty light, where one-sided certainties are driven by false desire…” Indeed. It has been difficult finding that place of illumined awareness again…
    _/\_

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