Blessing: My Backyard and John O’Donohue

My backyard calls to me at the end of a long week, the space beloved after these past months of quarantine. I’ve practiced yoga under these trees, discovered wild onions and sorrel, and planted a small garden, this one resembling a township more than the front yard fortress, with pots and boxes stuffed with soil and seeds. My eye keeps straying to the mint cuttings and sweet potato slips, wondering when they will be healthy and flourishing.

My companion today is the Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donohue, a man famous for penning books that guide readers into the Irish imagination and spiritual tradition. O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us, was a gift from a my dear friend, Laura. I have read it slowly, relishing his recognition of my need for blessing, and my ability to bless others. As he asserts, “A blessing is a difficult form to render”, but “in the parched deserts of postmodernity, a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.”

O’Donohue writes of several types of blessings: beginnings, desires, thresholds, homecomings, states of heart, callings, and beyond endings. On first examination, I was confused by the many different types, and thought back over my own history of blessings. My friend Jewel sent me off with an Irish blessing and a hug before I left for Korea, the words spilling out of her, part prayer, part poetry. My family said blessings over me one December night the year I turned twenty, celebrating the beginning of a new decade. After my Lyme diagnosis, a friend prayed as he anointed me, his words blessing the beginning of my healing. These were all blessings of beginnings. What surprised me in O’Donohue was the exploration of the other categories, particularly the area of thresholds.

A threshold is a beginning of a sort, but for O’Donohue, and now for me, it is something much deeper. As he describes, “A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres….It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward.”

green trees
Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on

Growing up, I saw gracious women around me who served and blessed from the deepest parts of themselves no matter their status. Single or married, they loved God, and they wanted to love others well. Despite their example, I still came to see womanhood as something that I would cross into only by being married. It was this rite of passage that would prove womanhood in my mind. Did completing a four year degree make me a woman? No. Did moving across the world on my own make me a woman? No. What about running a successful piano studio? No. It had to be marriage, and why was this? Sex. I associated womanhood with the sexual act, as though married women with their non-virgin bodies carried with them a secret knowledge that I could not possess until I too was married. Womanhood seemed something I could not cross over into without sex.

(While the idea of gaining the knowledge outside of marriage did occur to me, it was not something I wanted to pursue.)

This idea of womanhood being beyond my grasp remained unvoiced until encountering O’Donohue’s blessing At The Threshold of Womanhood. I recognized this desire for crossing over the threshold he described. “The lightness of being a girl is leaving/ And your thoughts too are taking you/ To places you have never known before.” I left the lightness of girlhood a long time ago, I realized, but had never allowed myself to fully grasp the change, even to celebrate it. There are no rites of passage that celebrate it, really, aside from marriage. “May you enter beautifully into the feminine/ Learning to trust the world of feeling you inherit/ Finding ease and elegance in all you are.” He showed me what I want: to know that I respect my own intelligence and beauty, and can hold myself with dignity in the world. “May you feel life as an irresistible invitation/ to discover and develop your talents/ Each day bringing something new to birth.” I wept when I read this, feeling an intense thankfulness that O’Donohue could express the longing I have for bringing beauty into the world. He had given me words for a threshold I wanted to cross, and showed me that I have crossed it, that I am in the territory of womanhood. No sex required.

If recognizing my own threshold and celebrating it awoke something in me, recognizing it in someone else’s life can bring about the same healing, the same joy. O’Donohue writes of how we can bless others, “When blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plentitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall, a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew.”

Barefoot now in the late afternoon light, I read the last section of blessings out loud to myself and the blackberry bushes.

Now is the time to free the heart, 

Let all intentions and worries stop, 

Free the joy inside the self, 

Awaken to the wonder of your life. 

I find myself fingering the burst blisters on my hands, remembering the pain that comes from embracing the challenges of my thresholds. They need to be crossed, and there are things that I will have to give up on the way, old ideas that I cannot carry into the new frontier. My eyes find the hard, green berries clustered on thorny limbs beside me, each holding the promise of future delight.

One thought on “Blessing: My Backyard and John O’Donohue

  1. So beautifully written Rachel. Stepping into womanhood. You began your journey as you began to open up yourself to others, showing them what a beautiful soul you are. I love your tea parties and how you give to others so graciously. I am enjoying your womanhood although way to far for my heart’s content. I love you. Mom


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