All of this is a rather meandering, and perhaps Irish way of getting to my main point, which is to discuss this very influential Celtic spiritual view, which I think has deep affinities with Tantra. For it is in mentioning meandering, too, that I think of some further influences, of Padraic O’Hare, with whom I had taken a class at Boston College, and Padraig O’Malley, 2009 Greeley Scholar for Peace and Justice at UMass Lowell and internationally known mediator. I remember vividly, when O’Malley gave the F. Bradford Morse Lecture at Middlesex Community College, he told the designated time keeper at the back of the room “Five minutes? Oh, I couldn’t possibly.” Indeed, I could (and did) listen to him for hours.
Six months ago, before The Considered Kula even existed, I posted to my other blog about my “drivetime listen” of an installment of “Being,” in particular an interview with John O’Donohue, and Irish poet and philosopher. As I said then,
As with so many other installments of Being (née Speaking of Faith), I was absolutely arrested, this time by the lyricism of a particularly Celtic take on divinity and embodiment, spirit and matter. I was so taken by the poetry with which complexities of our humanity rolled off O’Donohue’s tongue, that it made me sad he could no longer be heard in person. To my mind, Anam Cara will be worth a read, and hope that to your ear, O’Donohue will have been worth a listen. Please join the greater conversation, and cultivate an inner landscape.
Where does one begin? I started the post talking about music, so first let me quote what O’Donohue said of it in the interview, “Music is what language would love to be if it could.” More importantly, O’Donohue has some vital things to say about divinity and embodiment, spirit and matter, that I had only ever heard before in non-Western contexts. For instance, I love the simple opposition Anodea Judith sets up in her book Wheels of Life (2006; 1987), trying to “reweave the disparate concepts of East and West, spirit and matter, mind and body” in a quote from Marion Woodman “Matter without spirit is a corpse. Spirit without matter is a ghost.” (xv)
My journey to becoming post-Catholic has included a trip through books by Elaine Pagels on the Gnostic gospels, including The Gnostic Gospels (1989) and Beyond Belief (2004). Particularly in the second of these books, it is clear that the beliefs that survive in Catholicism today are those which then and now support Empire. It was this sense I had that these beliefs were thus a social and historical trap that was partly a precipitant for my leaving the church.
This particular phraseology, however, “post-Catholic” is meant to reflect that I respect what Thich Nhat Hahn has said in his dharma talk, “Peacemaking: How to Be It, How to Do It,” that one can’t cut one’s own spiritual roots. Mine are Catholic, and while I identify as Unitarian Universalist, and strongly with Anusara philosophy, I can’t bloom if I cut those Catholic roots. The patterns described as samskara can be positive as well as negative. There’s stuff to be salvaged here. (What can’t can be composted. It’s all good.) Among the other things to be salvaged is something that comes through in Krista Tippett’s conversation with O’Donohue, the nonduality of the transcendence and immanence, or intimacy, if you will, of the divine. It is this divine intimacy that O’Donohue’s book Anam Cara (1998), Gaelic for “soul friend” is meant to explore. It makes complete sense to me now that if Empire is what’s so heartbreaking about Catholicism, then the further one gets away from the Empire’s center, say to those wild landscapes of the Celts, then the closer one gets to authentic spiritual practice.
Where comes this “body is bad” (and therefore matter is bad) dualism? Some trace it to Augustine of Hippo. Indeed, and I think this is the culminating vision of the post, all of that came recently rushing back to me in revisiting my roots. Momentarily, in the next post, I shall return to those wild landscapes of the Celts.
In this blog and elsewhere, I have struggled with articulating a philosophical basis what, for lack of a better term, might be called “positive thinking,” of looking for the good, that had deeper roots that the garden variety (pun intended) that others decry. I have already suggested that my chosen faith observes this positivity in extending “salvation” to all. How about those roots I’m not cutting? Where does positivity figure with roots that emphasize original sin? The Second Vatican Council abandoned the position “no salvation outside the church,” but are all truly welcome? The maintenance of Empire requires adopting a particular narrow set of beliefs, but a truly spiritual path is expansive and respects diversity. As Mohandas Gandhi said, “Truth is one, paths are many.”
These musings conclude in Part Four, “A Pelagian Optimism.”