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“On the Death of the Beloved”

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

John O’Donohue, poet, philosopher and former Catholic priest.

This was not the poem I had in mind for today; something brighter was drafted, but will have to wait for tomorrow. Today is a day for remembering and grieving a man who meant so much to so many: Fr. Christian Mondor. He passed away last night, just days before his 93rd birthday. From all accounts, he was present and at peace in mind, body and spirit until the end, which doesn’t surprise me. He died as he lived: present and at peace.

Fr. Christian was a Franciscan priest who had lived and worked at my childhood parish, Sts. Simon and Jude. For decades, he attended La Casa de Maria Family Retreat, which has been such a pivotal part of our family’s life and faith. He was an avid surfer, traveler and banjo player, but most of all, he was a pastor. Though never holding the official position, Fr. Christian was a “pastor” in the truest sense of the word, watching over and caring for his “flock,” which was simply every one he met.

I was no exception. I liked Fr. Christian growing up, though I didn’t know him well, but as I got older and began reading the mystics, and theology, Fr. Christian came along side me at some critical moments, always with an encouraging word. We saw things in much the same way, and discussed some of our favorites, like Teilhard de Chardin and his beloved St. Francis.

One of my favorite moments came after I had spoken on to an audience about the difficulty I had relating to Jesus. I had not been well-educated on how interpret Jesus’ interactions with women and I found them distant and off-putting at times. After my talk, Fr. Christian sat down across the table from me and said, “You know, Jesus was a feminist. In fact, I believe he was a feminine spirit in a masculine body, the exact image and likeness of God, who must encompass both genders if we all come from that Source.” I could have wept at his kindness, at his articulation of this healing truth, which has stayed with me to this day, and always calls me back when I find myself distancing myself from the Son of Man.

Strangely (but perfectly) enough, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote a meditation today on what he called “Franciscan Feminism.”  As I read these lines, I thought of Fr. Christian and how I ought to send him a note today expressing my gratitude for how he has embodied this Franciscan spirituality. I didn’t know I wouldn’t get that chance, but just an hour later, I heard the news.

Happy and healthy Franciscans seem to present a combination of lightness of heart and firmness of foot at the same time. By this I mean that they do not take themselves so seriously, as upward-bound men often do; they often serve with quiet conviction and personal freedom as many mature women do… I believe the lightness of heart comes from contact with deep feminine intuition and with consciousness itself; the firmness of foot emerges when that feminine principle integrates with the mature masculine soul and moves forward with confidence into the outer world.

O’Donohue’s poem is the perfect goodbye blessing to this gentle man, who was a blessing to all who knew him. Though his days here were not brief, his legacy will last even longer. I’ve listened to the banjo play today; our family is heading out to beach in few moments to catch some waves in his honor; I’ll rest in the love of the Divine tonight, confident that if Fr. Christian called me friend and wanted my company, then the historical Jesus would as well.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

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“Beannacht”

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, theologian, philosopher and author, passed away in 2008 at the age of 58.

“Beannacht” is the Irish word for “blessing,” but it can also mean goodbye, which is fitting. One would offer a “beannacht” to a loved one as they headed out the door. Our “Bon voyage,” and “Safe travels” pale in comparison to this farewell, but they carry the same sentiment.  Unlike our current understanding of a “blessing” as a gift bestowed by God on some and not on others, this is the more ancient practice of offering a “blessing” as a prayer and a sending forth. I’m sorry we’ve lost that tradition, but grateful O’Donohue reclaimed it.

Like any good poet, he uses images, taken from the reality of his daily life and that of his readers, one for each stanza. For whatever befalls you, O’Donohue paints a picture of something in the natural world arising as a corrective to it: clay earth dancing, bright colors flying, yellow moonlight leading. Who wouldn’t feel safer in the world with these hopes wrapped around you? And he rewrites the Irish blessing so many of us are familiar with: “May the road rise up to meet you/ May the wind always be at your back… “, so we can hear anew how the power of the natural world is always at hand to help us on our journey.

It is all beautiful to me, but of course, the end is my favorite part. The true magic of any blessing is the love with which it is given and the open-heartedness with which it is received. Without love, they are empty words; with love, every goodbye is a blessing and every hello, a reunion of hearts.

I have a thing for Irish poets, especially their lilting, lyrical voices, so all the Irish poets I include this month will include a link to the poets reading their poems. I highly encourage a listen! You can listen to John here.