Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong

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There is a divine restlessness in the human heart, our eternal echo of longing that lives deep within us and never lets us settle for what we have or where we are.In this exquisitely crafted and inspirational book, John O'Donohue, author of the bestseller Anam Cara, explores the most basic of human desires - the desire to belong, a desire that constantly draws us toward new possibilities of self-discovery, friendship, and creativity.

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Eternal Echoes

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There is a divine restlessness in the human heart, our eternal echo of longing that lives deep within us and never lets us settle for what we have or where we are.In this exquisitely crafted and inspirational book, John O'Donohue, author of the bestseller Anam Cara, explores the most basic of human desires - the desire to belong, a desire that constantly draws us toward new possibilities of self-discovery, friendship, and creativity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060955588
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 199,680
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

John O'Donohue was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Tübingen in 1990. He is the author of several works, including a book on the philosophy of Hegel, Person als Vermittlung; two collections of poetry, Echoes of Memory and Conamara Blues; and two international bestsellers, Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes. He lectures and holds workshops in Europe and America, and is currently researching a book on the philosophical mysticism of Meister Eckhart. He lives in Ireland.

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Read an Excerpt

Awakening in the World:The Threshold of Belonging

The Belonging of the Earth

In the beginning was the dream. In the eternal night whereno dawn broke, the dream deepened. Before anything everwas, it had to be dreamed. Everything had its beginning inpossibility. Every single thing is somehow the expressionand incarnation of a thought. If a thing had never beenthought, it could never be. If we take Nature as the greatartist of longing then all presences in the world haveemerged from her mind and imagination. We are children ofthe earth's dreaming. When you compare the silent, under-night of Nature with the detached and intimate intensity ofthe person, it is almost as if Nature is in dream and we areher children who have broken through the dawn into timeand place. Fashioned in the dreaming of the clay, we arealways somehow haunted by that; we are unable ever finallyto decide what is dream and what is reality. Each day we livein what we call reality. Yet the more we think about it, themore life seems to resemble a dream. We rush through ourdays in such stress and intensity, as if we were here to stayand the serious project of the world depended on us. Weworry and grow anxious; we magnify trivia until theybecome important enough to control our lives. Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly in the infinite night of the cosmos. There is no protective zone around any of us. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream. What we consider real is often precariously dream like. One of the linguistic philosophers said that thereis n evidence that could be employed to disprove this claim: Th world only came into existence ten minutes ago complete with all our memories. Any evidence you could proffer could still be accounted for by the claim. Because our grip on reality is tenuous, every heart is infused with the dream o belonging.

Belonging: The Wisdom of Rhythm

To be human is to belong. Belonging is a circle that embrace everything; if we reject it, we damage our nature. The word "belonging" holds together the two fundamental aspects o life: Being and Longing, the longing of our Being and the being of our Longing. Belonging is deep; only in a superficial sense does it refer to our external attachment to people places, and things. It is the living and passionate presence o the soul. Belonging is the heart and warmth of intimacy when we deny it, we grow cold and empty. Our life's journey is the task of refining our belonging so that it may become more true, loving, good, and free. We do not have to force belonging. The longing within us always draws u towards belonging and again towards new forms of belonging when we have outgrown the old ones. Postmodern culture tends to define identity in terms of ownership: possessions, status, and qualities. Yet the crucial essence of who you are is not owned by you. The most intimate belonging is SelfBelonging. Yet your self is not something you could ever own; it is rather the total gift that every moment of your life endeavors to receive with honor. True belonging is gracious receptivity. This is the appropriate art of belonging in friendship: friends do not belong to each other, but rather with each other. This with reaches to the very depths of their twinned souls.

True belonging is not ownership; it never grasps or holds on from fear or greed. Belonging knows its own shape and direction. True belonging comes from within. It strives for a harmony between the outer forms of belonging and the inner music of the soul. We seem to have forgotten the true depth and spiritual nature of intimate belonging. Our minds are oversaturated and demented. We need to rediscover ascetical tranquillity and come home to the temple of our senses. This would anchor our longing and help us to feel the world from within. When we allow dislocation to control us, we become outsiders, exiled from the intimacy of true unity with ourselves, each other, and creation. Our bodies know that they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless. Guided by longing, belonging is the wisdom of rhythm. When we are in rhythm with our own nature, things flow and balance naturally. Every fragment does not have to be relocated, reordered; things cohere and fit according to their deeper impulse and instinct. Our modern hunger to belong is particularly intense. An increasing majority of people feel no belonging. We have fallen out of rhythm with life. The art of belonging is the recovery of the wisdom of rhythm.

Like fields, mountains, and animals we know we belong here on earth. However, unlike them, the quality and passion of our longing make us restlessly aware that we cannot belong to the earth. The longing in the human soul makes it impossible for us ever to fully belong to any place, system,or project. We are involved passionately in the world, yet there is nothing here that can claim us completely. When we forget how partial and temporary our belonging must remain, we put ourselves in the way of danger and disappointment. We compromise something eternal within us. The sacred duty of being an individual is to gradually learn how to live so as to awaken the eternal within oneself. Our ways of belonging in the world should never be restricted to or fixated on one kind of belonging that remains stagnant. If you listen to the voices of your own longing, they will constantly call you to new styles of belonging which are energetic and mirror the complexity of your life as you deepen and intensify your presence on earth.

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
A pioneering work of Celtic wisdom, John O'Donohue's Eternal Echoes embarks upon a journey in discovering the heart of our postmodern world -- a hungry, lonesome world that suffers from a sense of isolation and fragmentation. There is a divine restlessness in the human heart, our eternal echo of longing that lives deep within us and never lets us settle for what we have or where we are. Now, in this exquisitely crafted, inspirational book, John O'Donohue explores that most basic of human desires -- the desire to belong. It is a desire that constantly draws us toward new possibilities of self-discovery, friendship, and creativity.

From this luminous, richly-textured book we can gain insight into our troubled times, drawing inspiration from Ireland's enduring spiritual heritage of Celtic thought and imagination. It is a heritage of profound, mystical wisdom that will open the pathways to peace and contentment, and lead us to love with creativity, honor, and compassion in the one life that has been given to us.

Questions for Discussion

  • Why is there such a crisis of belonging in our times? What are the characteristics of our fragmented and broken belonging? What are the voices of longing in your heart at this time in your life? Where do you think you were before you came here? What is the true relationship of longing and belonging? In your childhood, how did longing and belonging relate? In what ways do you actually belong in the world?
  • Human presence is unique, passionate and complex: discuss. What styles of presence do you have? How are you present to people who are angry, indifferent or threatening? Where is your anger? Is there anyascetic dimension to your life? Freedom also consists in keeping the contours of your choices porous: discuss. How do you incarnate longing?
  • What is false belonging? Why are you afraid of freedom? The images others make for us are never sufficient: discuss. How are guilt and shame related? Where is the haunted room in your mind? Where are the walls of your private prisons? Can you identify in your life the gifts brought to you by the angels of attraction and inspiration?
  • Suffering and evil are the most critical evidence against our belief in a good, kind God: discuss. Can there be growth and creativity without darkness? Why are we so vulnerable? Is spontaneity disappearing from our lives? Does suffering eventually give way to transformation? How important is failure in your life? No wound is ever silent: discuss.
  • What is your understanding of prayer? When and how do you pray? How does prayer help us to see things differently? How is wonder related to prayer? Why is wonder so vital to the world of spirituality? How does prayer change our experience of space and time? Write out your own prayer to suit the rhythm of your life and the shape of your soul.
  • What are the absences in your life? How does presence differ from absence? When do you experience real presence? When we talk too easily about ourselves, we cheapen our mystery: discuss. How does the role of participant and observer balance in your life? Discuss a philosophy of loss. What pathways toward new community lie hidden around us? What is the grief in your life? Who are the people you never hear from? What traditions do you really belong to? How can you reclaim the traditions that belong to you?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2000

    Modern Take on an Ancient Problem

    Stylistically speaking, John O¿Donohue is almost Hemingwayesque, often stringing together brief, pithy declarative sentences. Taken out of context, savored separately they are terse bits of Irish wisdom ('The heart is an eternal nomad.' 'The child and the artist are pilgrims of discovery.' 'Suffering is the sister of future possibility.'). One is tempted to plaster them about as reminders of positive, focused aspirations. Yet he is also capable of soaring, poetic passages as well. O¿Donohue incites/ invites us to look for the higher versions of our humanity by pointing out various current attitudes which have led society to a leprosy of spirit. He reminds us that our normally healthy desire for satiation had mutated to obsessive consumerism. ('Consumerism is the new religion . . . Quantity is the new divinity . . . Advertising is its liturgy.') This may fuel the world economy but it does so at the cost of emptying our souls. He further suggests that the technology which promised to make us belong has only isolated us and severed our ties to nature. And that in losing our respect for the earth we are destroying ourselves in ways that transcend the mere poisoning of the environment. The author is described on the book¿s back cover as 'a Catholic scholar.' Followers of other religions should not be put-off by this. O¿Donohue obviously possesses profound, definitive ideas about his own faith, but he does not 'inflict' them with undue pressure upon the reader. In an effort to locate something to criticize in this book, I must say that I read lightly and quickly a short segment on Celtic spirituality relating to the fairy world. As a cynical, twentieth century American, I am discomforted by suggestions of unseen presences from an 'in-between world.' It seems too convenient a means of explaining the unexplainable: those seemingly bizarre twists of Fate to which each of us is subjected. (In an effort to maintain some flexibility in this matter, I have relegated it to a personal mental subheading entitled, 'More things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .') There are passages in Eternal Echoes that I would be hard-pressed to reword and explain. Yet on some level they click. I might suggest this as a kind of epiphany where the intellect recognizes the spiritual and vice versa. The power of words often rests in their very subjectivity --- that what we derive from them may not be precisely what the author intended, but nonetheless a mind-door has opened. John O¿Donohue leads us to such thresholds, then suggests what he believes may lie beyond. It is for us to step through these portals and explore the potential of our own inner scenery.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    Inciteful and illuminating.

    As a disillusioned "cradle" Catholic, I find the Celtic view, as related by O'Donohue, a path in the right direction on my continued spiritual journey. After reading Anam Cara by the same author, I just had to read more! This book continues an exploration and answers many questions that I have had from my traditional religious teachings.The feminine side of the equation is addressed where the formal Church never entered or seemed to accept. This need to belong is referenced from an enlightening point of view.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2013

    One of the best by John O'Donohue

    Another great one to add peace to your life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Great Read

    Full of inspirition & hope.

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    Posted October 19, 2011

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