“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” St Irenaeus
The late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, is beloved for his book Anam Ċara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience.
“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam c.ara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and c.ara is the word for friend. So anam c.ara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam c.ara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam c.ara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam c.ara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.
…In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”
I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty … and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world.”
In his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, John O’Donohue writes,
“In Greek the word for ‘the beautiful’ is to kalon. It is related to the word kalein which includes the notion of ‘call’. When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder if an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.”