“Death is the great wound in the universe and the great wound in each life. Yet, ironically, this is the very wound that can lead to new spiritual growth. Thinking of your death…. you begin to refine your sensibility and become aware of the treasures that are hidden in the invisible side of your life…. These treasures are yours; no one else can ever take them from you.” (John O’Donohue Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, HarperCollins, USA, 1997)
These two years of pandemic have schooled us in the great wound of death, first generally as numbers of those dying were being reported, then more particularly as people we knew suffered losses among their families and friends, as we ourselves heard of friends with COVID.
Some recovered, some did not.
In a culture that would rather push away thoughts of death, we found ourselves during COVID often deprived even of the minimized rituals of wakes, of funerals. Over these two years, when a death of someone we loved touched us closely either from COVID or from any other cause, we found ourselves left on our own, without knowing how to grieve.
The death of a beloved friend in recent days overturned what I thought I understood of grief and loss, of hope and love. Seeking a way to integrate this new experience, I opened Anam Cara. I share with you what I found in John O’Donohue’s writings on “the great wound.”
Imagine if you could talk to a baby in the womb and explain its unity with the mother. How this cord of belonging gives if life. If you could then tell the baby that this was about to end. It was going to be expelled from the womb, pushed through a very narrow passage, finally to be dropped out into vacant, open light. The cord that held it to this mother-womb was going to be cut, and it was going to be on its own forever more. If the baby could talk back, it would fear that it was going to die. For the baby within the womb, being born would seem like death.
O’Donohue adds that the difficulty for us regarding death is that, like the baby in the womb, we only experience one side of the great happening. “…death is about rebirth. The soul is now free in a new world where there is no more separation or shadow or tears.”
Separation. Shadow. Tears. Yes. Yet O’Donohue writes compellingly of “the mystical wonder of our lives.”
It is a strange and magical fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and a world at your fingertips outside you. It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here…. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.
And yet, there is a lonely side to our embodiment. When you live in a body you are separate from every other object and person ….At death this physical separation is broken. The soul is released from its particular and exclusive location in this body. The soul then comes into a free and fluent universe of spiritual belonging,
Set free by death from the bonds of space and time, “the soul is free; distance and separation hinder it no more.”
And here is the place where my reading of Anam Cara began to awaken me to a new kind of hope:
The dead are our nearest neighbours; they are all around us. Meister Eckhart was once asked, Where does the soul of a person go when a person dies? He said, no place. Where else would the soul be going? Where else is the eternal world? It can be nowhere other than here.
O’Donohue reflects further: This suggests that the dead are here with us, in the air that we are moving through all the time. The only difference between us and the dead is that they are now in an invisible form. You cannot see them with the human eye. But you can sense the presence of those you love who have died. With the refinement of your soul, you can sense them. You feel that they are near.
Writing in the 1990’s with the opening up of Quantum Science, O’Donohue was looking ahead to future possibilities:
One of the exciting developments that may happen in evolution and in human consciousness in the next several hundred years is a whole new relationship with the invisible, eternal world. We do not need to grieve for the dead….They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came. They have returned to the nest of their identity within the great circle of God….the largest embrace in the universe, which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, as one.