In this follow-up to his international bestsellers Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes , John O’Donohue turns his attention to the subject of beauty—the divine beauty that calls the imagination and awakens all that is noble in the human heart Beauty is a gentle but urgent call to awaken. O'Donohue opens our eyes, hearts, and minds to the wonder of our own relationship with beauty by exposing the infinity and mystery of its breadth. His words return us to the dignity of silence, profundity of stillness, power of thought and perception, and the eternal grace and generosity of beauty's presence. In this masterful and revelatory work, O'Donohue encourages our greater intimacy with beauty and celebrates it for what it really is: a homecoming of the human spirit. As he focuses on the classical, medieval, and Celtic traditions of art, music, literature, nature, and language, O'Donohue reveals how beauty's invisible embrace invites us toward new heights of passion and creativity even in these uncertain times of global conflict and crisis.
John O'Donohue, Ph.D., was born in County Clare in 1956. He spoke Irish as his native language and lived in a remote cottage in the west of Ireland until his untimely death in January 2008. A highly respected poet and philosopher, he lectured throughout Europe and America and wrote a number of popular books, including Anam Cara and To Bless the Space Between Us.
A beautiful book written by a beautiful man, John O'Donohue’s Beauty is filled with such inspiring words I found it difficult, almost inappropriate, to read even a chapter straight through since many lines invite us to reread and linger with their fragrance for days. Here are several such lines coupled with my brief comments, taken from two of my favorite chapters – The Call to Beauty and The Music of Beauty:
"Indeed, the subtle touches of beauty are what enable most people to survive. Yet beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it. Everywhere there is tenderness, care, and kindness, there is beauty."--------- During this past year I have been reading ancient Greek philosophy. Turns out, one of those Greek philosophers I especially enjoy is Epicurus, one big reason, Epicurus was famous for his kindness, caring and sensitivity, encouraging us to transform our life itself into a work of beauty.
"Yet beauty's visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm, it calls us to feel, think and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful." ---------- I have been involved in the creative arts for many years but I have come to realize our greatest creation is to become ourselves a being radiating beauty.
"Even, and perhaps especially, in the bleakest times, we can still discover and awaken beauty; these are precisely the times when we need it most. Nowhere else can we find the joy that beauty brings. Joy is not simply the fruit of circumstances; we can choose to be joyous independent of what is happening around us." --------- How true! John O'Donohue invites us to raise our own inner vibration and experience the inner joy of simply being alive, especially needed when we are facing our biggest challenges.
"If our style of looking becomes beautiful, then beauty will become visible and shine forth for us. We will be surprised to discover beauty in unexpected places where the ungraceful eye would never linger. The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere, for beauty does not reserve itself for special elite moments or instances; it does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything. When we beautify our gaze, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and our sanctuary." ---------- Thank you, John. `Beautify our gaze' - the experience of beauty is an inner transformation not a change of scenery.
"To behold beauty dignifies your life; it heals you and calls you out beyond the smallness of our own self-limitation to experience new horizons. To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged." --------- Again, thank you, John. There is a rightness and clarity when we see beauty in the world and become fuller and more attuned to not only the outside world by also to ourselves.
"Beauty is not to be captured or controlled for there is something intrinsically elusive in its nature. More like a visitation than a solid fact, beauty invests the aura of a person or infuses a landscape with an unexpected intimacy that satisfies our longing." ---------- Intimate, mysterious and, on occasions blissful and ecstatic, an experience quite beyond any words.
"To the human ear, however, music echoes the deepest grandeur and the most sublime intimacy of the soul." ---------I find this true to my own experience. Music hits me at a much deeper level than the other arts. It is like an internal dance with my nervous system.
"In contrast to most other forms of art, music alters your experience of time. To enter a piece of music, or to have the music enfold you, is to depart for a while from regulated time. Music creates a rhythm that beats out its own time-shape." --------- Music has a deep connection to Eros and love, expressing an energy short-circuiting reason, an energy that is transporting, absorbing, sensuous, kinetic, and involves our whole person, body and soul.
"There is a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches in to the eternal. This is the authority and grace of music; it evokes or creates an atmosphere where presence awakens to its eternal depth."---------- I never tire of reading these words over and over again.
“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.”
In written form, this would perhaps be the kind of book one would read now and then when the mood struck. A book to set a mood, a book to have you sit a spell and ponder, as my grandfather was wont to say.
This was the first audiobook I bought, after I read my goodreads friend Glenn’s review sometime last year. Since Glenn had mentioned that the author, himself, had narrated this, and the author’s charming Irish brogue, I had added it as my first audio.
It didn’t take me long to realize that sitting in my house listening to this did not work for me, and so I waited patiently for a long drive. I didn’t really mind, having other books to read, and sometimes I would just re-listen to the beginning of this to remind me of what loveliness lay in store for me.
So yesterday, I left early for a planned excursion to God’s Kingdom, God’s Country, to experience some of what nature must have first been intended to pass for beauty. What better audio to listen to on my quest for that beauty than to listen to a book about beauty? And, in truth, it was perfect. I enjoyed listening to every second of this.
The only negative of listening and driving is not being able to highlight passages, but I did not miss a thing at the same time. This was lovely, spiritual – but not in a speaking-from-the-pulpit way, this a heart-to-heart spiritual connection shared on many topics, ‘The Music of Beauty,’ ‘The Color of Beauty’ are two of the ten topics. Effortlessly, as though you’ve just sat down and he’s pouring you a spot of tea, he manages to transform his thoughts with a lyrical aura of beauty infusing the words as he speaks them. Delicious, swoon-worthy splendid prose, prose unveiling images with reverence for the wonder and awe of every-day beauty.
“What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.
"When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.”
I would be remiss if I did not thank Glenn for not only pointing me to a book I love, but to the wonderful experience of listening to this. Magical. Glenn’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
I recently learned that my good friend John O'Donohue had died in his sleep in January 2008 while in Paris. We had not spoken since 2006. The last time we got together was in Galwey, Ireland in the Spring of 2004. I've downloaded every video and audio I could find on the Internet after spending a day in my own private Memorial Observance. What a sweet and yet critical soul! I have three transcripts and recordings of conversations that are each eight to fifteen hours long. While working at a prior consulting firm as the head of Research and Development, and later as the CEO, we brought John over to work with us on the philosophical core of our practices. These sessions were only and always spectacular, and through these I came to know him well enough to count him among my friends.
He always had an integrity of heart, mind, spirit and action that could not be evaded or go unnoticed. His poetry is quite lovely at times and quite piercing at others. His prose is always accessible yet in no way superficial. More on his other books later.
This is an author that came Highly recommended to me, so now I'm waiting to read the book. But here's an excerpt from his "Reflections":
"Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits."
As an author who fancies that he has some facility for using language, reading Beauty was truly a humbling experience. In fact, other than Thomas Wolfe of You Can't Go Home Again fame, in my sixty-nine-year reading odyssey I have never encountered a writer with such a gift of language as John O'Donohue, and I highly recommend reading Beauty to experience of the author's incredible ability to depict the various aspects of beauty and describe thoughts and feelings about it alone. Add to this gift, the author's immense powers of observation and wise insights, and my opinion is that Beauty is one of the ten most important books that one could read.
Language...ah, yes, language. I will not attempt to use adjectives and adverbs to further describe O'Donohue's gift, but instead supply a few of his phrases which were my favorites. "Time had come to rest in the silence and stillness of Loch Corrib;" "the tired machinations of the ego are abandoned;" "the interior geometry of things;" the automatic traffic of functioning;" "addicts of the familiar;" "imagination has retained the grace of innocence;" and "the silent majesty of the ordinary." And speaking of majesty, Tom Verducci, a columnist for Sports Illustrated recently opined that "Defining majesty drives man to his literary boundaries." I realized how true this was when I was faced with trying to adequately communicate how gifted John O'Donohue is, and I would opine that John's boundaries were wide indeed!
Content...ah, yes, content. After treating the reader to an Introduction, defining beauty and its vital importance to our lives and our world, O'Donohue then separates his exploration of the subject into ten chapters. Looking back on Beauty, I think of it as a wheel with ten spokes: The Call Of Beauty; Where Does Beauty Dwell; The Music Of Beauty; The Color Of Beauty; The Joy Of Shapes That Dance; Imagination: Beauty's Entrance; Attraction: The Eros Of Beauty; The Beauty Of The Flaw; The White Shadow: Beauty And Death; and God Is Beauty. And in only 249 magnificent pages, the author presents the reader with a wealth of knowledge and insights in the various aspects that compose the circle of beauty. Each chapter is so full of thoughts and feelings, that one reads and rereads constantly in an effort to drink it all in and hold it. Then, as I did, the reader most like will say to his or herself, "I'm going to read and reread these chapters one at a time over the rest of my lifetime."
I conclude by again quoting Tom Verducci, who observed of another writing that "The knowledge and wisdom was so great as to invite our most ambitious attempts at commemoration." My most ambitious attempt to commemorate O'Donahue's Beauty is indeed feeble next to the genius of his work. I can only urge my fellow readers to enter its pages and experience for yourselves. It will change your life for the better! I received this absolute wonderment as a gift for my 75th birthday from my dear friend, Julienne Givot, for which I give heartfelt thanks!
A much needed treatise in an age where beauty has been exploited; sexualized, commercialized, and objectified. If you are wishing to reconnect with the sacredness of beauty - your own, others', and that of the world around you - then delve into this sincere attempt to honor that which is a true gift to humanity.
A book to linger over. And I did, more mornings than not, for a year. O'Donohue sees everything from a different perspective- a more true, hidden, mystical perspective that I hope leeches into me every time I open the book. The 'Music of Beauty' and 'Color of Beauty' were memorable but clearly were written by a poet/author peering into these areas rather than looking out from. Some of the facts about color weren't accurate so they had a misplaced mysticism that flared up my skepticism and outed O'Donohue's romanticism. So, four stars for that reason. I am always sad to finish a book by this author. It feels like a good friend just moved away.
O’Donohue had an ability to exquisitely explain mysterious and philosophical concepts (that I’ve tried to foggily contemplate) in a poetic but still accessible way. He gives well-crafted words and explanations to things I could not find words for myself. One might think this book is about visual beauty, and it is in some ways, but it is more comprehensively a book about life and the human experience. He reminds readers of the deeper layers of goodness and beauty that underlie creation and life. It was an enlightening and lovely read. I would most definitely recommend it if you are looking for some accessible, generally faith-based philosophy...or even if you aren’t.
I really, really like O'Donohue's poetry and I could tell that the quality of thinking and philosophical exploration in this book of essays is one piece of what allows him to write the high quality poems/blessings that he has. Still, I didn't find the essays particularly compelling or useful.
There were some snippets and I'll quote some of those below but they came at too great a distance apart often -- if they had come in 75 pages rather than 250+ I would have rated the book more highly:
p8 Notions of self-improvement have become banal and wearisome. p24 When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. p54 In "Crossing Unmarked Snow" by William Stafford: "The things you do not have to say make you rich. Saying things you do not have to say weakens your talk. Hearing things you do not need to hear dulls your hearing. And things you know before you hear them -- those are you-- Those are why you are in the world." p140 It is puzzling that in the Western world we have concentrated on the divine intellect and the divine will. […] When we bring in the notion of the imagination, we begin to discover a whole new sense of God. The emphasis on […] judgment […] begins to recede. The image of God as a […] moral accountant peering into the region's of one's intimate life falls away. […] creativity is the supreme passion of God. When we bring in the missing dimension of imagination, the perspective changes and we get a glimpse of true beauty, the glorious passion, urgency and youthfulness of God. […] p141 […] the urgent fullness of God. There was such a fullness brimming in the divine presence that had God not created, he would have imploded. God had to come to expression. p153 Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. p174 Freedom is not simply the absence of necessity; it is the poise of soul at one with a life which honours and engages its creative possibility. p179 It is difficult to find the courage and vision at the points of deepest wounding to believe that new risk can take us into new life. But there is no alternative. When we remain sealed away inside the shell, we are no longer able to hear our own life. 'Beauty triumphs over the suffering inherent in life.' Nietzche p184 However, the freedom to choose graciousness is a freedom no-one can take from us. p207 'When night asks who I am I answer, "Your own," and am not lonely.' Li-Young Lee p227 Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds us to the fact that we are already at the feast. To accept this can change everything: we are always home, never exiled. […] In every moment, everywhere, we are not even inches away from the divine presence. […] Perhaps the secret of spiritual integrity has to do with an act of acceptance, namely, a recognition that you are always already within the divine embrace. p229 A God without a why is a God who is lyrical and full of grace, a God who has no other intention than simply 'to be'. To learn that art of being is to become free of the burden of strategy, purpose and self-consciousness. God dwells totally in fluency of presence. [vs Heschel? Prophecy?]
John O'Donahue writes beautiful prose. The words all sit in lines like strings of lustrous pearls. This book is no exception to his style and offers the reader a glimpse into an enchanted landscape beyond the everyday.
If you are a materialist and consider consciousness as simply a by-product of brain activity then this book is not for you, but if you have a nagging sense that there IS something more, something precious and wonderful about life and death then John's words will be be a balm to your soul. Savour his words and lose your disenchantment.
This is one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read a lot of books. John O'Donohue has this talent to put the beauty of the world into words. His book is very simple to read, broken into simple sections that can be read daily or all at once. He points out the beauty of the simplest things that most of us don't notice but have always been there. His book will jerk your emotions and show you the world in different light. THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ.
A book filled with wisdom. Overpowering at times, but saturated with thoughts meant to pierce the soul. I read it like a devotional, which worked much better than trying to power my way through at a regular pace. If you're looking for deeper insight into the nature of beauty, I would highly recommend it.
A mystically beautiful book.. it sometimes transported me into a different state of being and urged me to question myself about various things. This book will always embellish my bookshelf, and I will probably come across as cheesy saying this but I will always turn to this gem of a composition. "When we experience the beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming"
Vintage O'Donohue. A look and listen in the depth we usually associate with O'Donohue. Relationships, nature, music, art, language, are all part of the embrace. His own language is itself a thing of beauty. The additional delight in this audio version is the celtic music opening and concluding each chapter and the text is read by John himself.
I am so glad that I was able to finish 'Beauty: The Invisible Embrace' by John O'Donohue at last. I came across some of John O'Donohue's favorable quotations at FB. I wanted to know about him. I borrowed three books written by him, but amazingly he was quoted several times by James Martin, SJ while I was reading 'Jesus,' one previous book I had read before reading 'Beauty.'
I was a little discouraged and disappointed with 'Beauty' at the beginning since it was rather difficult and abstract for me to follow. I almost gave up continuing reading in the middle. I decided to listen to his talk on Youtube to find out how he was. He laughed a lot while talking and was wearing good facial impression. So I came back to his book, 'Beauty' to complete reading it.
I will just leave several quotations or phrases I like instead of my reviewing.
- To achieve a glimpse of inner beauty strengthens our sense of dignity and grace.
- (The wind's) longing has transformed their nothingness into a cry. At other times the wind is utterly buoyant, rousing and refreshing. When you walk into that mood of wind, it cleanses your mind and invigorates your body. It feels as if the wind would love you to dance.
The simplest body movement is always more than itself and it becomes the outer language of our hidden and inner world. It is quite astonishing how helplessly our bodies speak us out.
Because we carry the weight of the world in our hearts, we know how delightful it is to dance. In dance, the human body reclaims the childlikeness.... perhaps dance was our first language.
Each one of us has kinship with the divine.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. (quoted from Carl Jung)
One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion.
Chorography of Death
The wild beauty of God
The wild has a profound simplicity
Courtesy invites dignity.
A true style of the soul is dignity.
In the presence of a contemplative person---an atmosphere of stillness and a sense of clarity
Within you, a sanctuary of deep love, trust and belonging
Though awful suffering came to them, it never touched their essence. We sense in them a profound tranquillity and gentleness.
the depth and beauty of heart
I would always remain best friends with myself.
If we could but turn aside from the glare of the world and enter our native stillness, we would find ourselves quickening to new life in the eternal embrace.
This book explores the concept of beauty and its effect on the soul. It makes some good points, especially as to the need and longing that beauty can both awaken and soothe within us, but I also found it lacking in several aspects.
In concept contradicted itself several times, per example in stating in one chapter that beauty is everywhere and eternal and in another that it is fickle and rare.
I also found it disappointing that it was about the soul and the spiritual side of beauty while almost completely disregarding God. The author used to be a Catholic priest but left the priesthood, but continually in the book makes references to great Catholic saints and authors (St Augustine - he's quoted many times but one example is on page 23, Hans Urs von Balthasar p. 14, Meister Eckhart p. 27) without for that sake joining his teachings to theirs. Ironically the view which both the Church and I hold to be true is one which the author explains as "medieval" in a few chapters starting on p. 54, citing several quotes by the great Doctor of the Church St Thomas of Aquinas. This view entails that all beauty comes from God and has God as a goal. Beauty points us to Him as He Himself is all beautiful and good (see per example CCC §341). Mr O'Donohue doesn't suggest a different source or goal, which I wish he would have. Instead he leaves out his reflections about this to continue rambling about what beauty is and how it manifests itself, same as he spends most of the book doing. It got quite repetitive after a while. Indeed, it gave me the sensation of a student trying to reach a word limit. Sometimes I would read entire chapters and then look back and realise that nothing new had been stated, or that the same point had been made in several different ways. It made me disappointed that this book did not seem to actually have anything to say.
All in all it felt like very watered-down theology and writing, though I do appreciate the attempt of bringing attention to the importance of beauty because I feel like it is often overlooked these days - just look at modern architecture :(
I didn't see a point in finishing the book once I had read most of it without getting anything out of it, so I put it down. At least if we had opposing views it could've been interesting to go on simply to understand a different perspective. Instead it was vague and noncomittal and I felt like I was wasting my time. I have read other works on Beauty and its connection with God and the human soul, so after I've had a look in my (physical, not goodreads) bookshelves I can come back and recommend some more constructive reading if you're interested in the subject.
Gorgeous, inspiring, thought provoking, moving. I feel like these words aren't enough to describe John O'Donohue's writing and thoughts. Enjoy.
“What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.
When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.”
The beauty of the true ideal is its hospitality towards woundedness, weakness, failure and fall-back. Yet so many people are infected with the virus of perfection. They cannot rest; they allow themselves no ease until they come close to the cleansed domain of perfection. This false notion of perfection does damage and puts their lives under great strain. It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one's own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one's spirit. One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion.”
“Grace is the permanent climate of divine kindness; the perennial infusion of springtime into the winter of bleakness.”
“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.”
Our identities are constrained by own imagination! Here’s a creative writing blog just to get the “juice” flowing. What’s the juice you say? Well it’s the life force that ebbs and flows all around us, good juicy life goodness. It’s the stuff that makes you want to taste rain, to get on a bicycle, to make a cuppa for someone you care about. The best part about the juice? Everything makes it grow. There’s an old saying around my parts. We say “If you want to grow you’ve got to take a little dirt”. After all, the route of determination is ultimately our perfect gemstone; it might be shiny through all the grit, but at the end of the day it’s still a gemstone. Ever looked upon glowing alexandrite? Changing it’s beautiful colours? Well it might be the colour you are seeing but it’s those atomic particles called electron dancing up and down finding where the feel comfiest in the light. Those electrons actually absorb the light they need and simple reflect all the other light they don’t need. So the bottom line is, when you gaze upon a object you are seeing all the light the object isn’t. Isn’t that neat? It’s lovely to imagine the soul like this, absorbing all that it needs to feel comfortable whilst simply reflecting back the rest of the beauty that is not necessary. John O’Donahue in his book “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace” explores this concept thoroughly. This blog piece could almost be a long winded review for the book itself, and that would be most worthwhile indeed.
I looked this book up after listening to a gorgeous conversation between O’Donohue and Krista Tippett on the “On Being” podcast. While I found O’Donohue’s words had more power for me when I could hear him speaking them, I still enjoyed this book. Each chapter contains a loosely connected collection of meditations on a particular aspect of beauty, and the book glitters with keen observations of the subtle workings of the mind and gaze in the presence of beauty. Sometimes I wanted more structure from the book, but there are so many bits of brilliance scattered throughout that it was still well worth the read.