Meeting John O’Donohue

April 29, 2018

Just a month into my first Anam Cara Journey women’s circle, I had the opportunity to hear John O’Donohue speak at Trinity Episcopal Church in Northwest Portland. It was late October 2007. I felt giddy, like I was going to see a rock star or some other type of celebrity. I chuckled to myself when I heard John advise us not to seek gurus or dabble with self-help books. “Read the mystics,” John declared. “They had no hopes or dreams of being a published author or being on the Oprah Winfrey Show. They wrote because they had to write. They had something to say that originated in their souls.”

The following day I was among 50 or so people attending John’s all-day workshop. Never shy in the presence of greatness, I plopped myself down in the front row. I was about 15 feet away from the lectern that held his notes, and even closer to himself. We explored the various trinities in our own lives. Part of our work was to write a love letter to our heart. We were encouraged to remember the first sound we ever heard, which was the heartbeat of our mother as we formed in her womb. We were encouraged to remember the first time we saw our mother’s faces. It was all about hearts and mothers.

Right before we departed for the writing exercise, I had a moment alone with John. I said to him, “Thanks for the assignment. Today marks ‘ten years and a day’ since the death of my mother, Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern.”  His reply—“Oh Jeeeeeesus!!!”  When we returned from writing, and it was time for group sharing, I was the first to raise my hand. John nodded at me, an invitation to speak.

Trembling, and a little unsure of myself, I said, “The first heartbeat I heard was not my mother’s.” John gave me an inquisitive look, and then another nod suggesting I say more. “The first heartbeat I heard was that of my grandmother’s, as I was an egg forming inside my mother as she was forming inside of my grandmother.”

This definitely captured John’s interest, as he leaned closer to me, inviting me to speak even more. More confident now, I continued, “Today I discovered a Sacred Trinity of feminine heart beats. I am Kathleen Marie, my mother was Mary Kathleen, and her mother was Katherine Mae.” John, eyes rolling and body quivering, exclaimed “Oh Sweet Jeeeeesus!” This time, without John’s permission, I continued. “I did not have children, so I wonder what will become of this Trinity when I pass. I pose that as a question to ponder, not one to be answered, just yet.” John shifted his gaze and then his papers, and suddenly leaned on the lectern as his Irish eyes penetrated my soul.

He asked, “Are you a writer?” I nodded and said, “Yes.” He nodded back in agreement. Then he addressed the whole group saying, “Someday we’ll read her writings and think—we heard Kathleen first today, at Trinity Church in Portland, Oregon!!!”  He then thanked me profusely for my sharing and encouraged me to keep writing.

I sat down and began to weep from a place of tenderness in my heart and a knowing in my soul. It was like coming home to my true self. The next comment came from a woman in the back. She said into the hand microphone, “Kathleen, I was one of your students in a class that changed my life. Your heartbeat continues to touch the hearts of many.” I stood up and recognized her as an older woman from a world religions class I taught the previous year at a local community college.  She continued to speak glowingly about my work in the world. A little bit embarrassed, and with some angst about taking up too much time, all I could do was give her a little Buddhist kind of bow, which she gave back. John then chimed in. “Oh Jeeeesus, when the bowing starts you know something important is happening!!!”

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