For A Friend On The Arrival of Illness - John O'Donohue

Poetry by John O'Donohue. Click Play to listen to him reading this poem.

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

by John O'Donohue


Now is the time of dark invitation

Beyond a frontier that you did not expect;

Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

You barely noticed how each day opened

A path through fields never questioned,

Yet expected deep down to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;

Before your eyes your future shrinks.

You lived absorbed in the day to day,

So continuous with everything around you,

That you could forget you were separate;

Now this dark companion has come between you,

Distances have opened in your eyes,

You feel that against your will

A stranger has married your heart.

Nothing before has made you

Feel so isolated and lost.

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,

May grace come to restore you to balance.

May it shape a new space in your heart

To embrace this illness as a teacher

Who has come to open your life to new worlds.

May you find in yourself

A courageous hospitality

Towards what is difficult,

Painful and unknown.


May you use this illness

As a lantern to illuminate

The new qualities that will emerge in you.

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light

Help you to release whatever has become false in you.

May you trust this light to clear a path

Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety

Until you feel arising within you a tranquility

Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:

Ask it why it came? Why it chose your friendship?

Where it wants to take you? What it wants you to know?

What quality of space it wants to create in you?

What you need to learn to become more fully yourself

That your presence may shine in the world.

May you keep faith with your body,

Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary

Which can bring this night-wound gradually

Towards the healing and freedom of dawn.