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The On Being Project

Finding Your Way Home in Anxious Times

This woodcut is one of my favorite works of art. It’s called Christ of the Breadlines, and it’s the work of a remarkable man named Fritz Eichenberg. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Eichenberg was born to a Jewish family in Cologne, Germany, where the destruction of World War I helped to shape his anti-war sentiments….In 1933, the rise of Adolf Hitler convinced Eichenberg, a public critic of the Nazis, to emigrate with his wife and children to the United States, where he settled in New York City for most of the remainder of his life….

…Raised in a non-religious family, Eichenberg had been attracted to Taoism as a child. …[He] turned briefly to the practice of Zen Buddhist meditation, then joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1940. Though he remained a Quaker until his death, Eichenberg was also associated with Catholic charity work through his friendship with Dorothy Day…and frequently contributed illustrations to Day’s newspaper The Catholic Worker.

Christ of the Breadlines was one of those illustrations. I can’t think of a more apt work of art to accompany the last stanza of John O’Donohue’s, “For Citizenship,” from To Bless the Space Between Us. It’s a stanza that for me, at least, names some of the most vital inner and outer work we need to do in these times — as long as we understand that anger over injustice is an energy we can harness and ride toward the good.

If enough of us got angry about the plight of the poor, the marginalized, and the brutalized, maybe we’d be more energized to help make the U.S. a land of promise for all.

“For Citizenship”
by John O’Donohue

In these times when anger
Is turned into anxiety
And someone has stolen
The horizons and the mountains,

Our small emperors on parade
Never expect our indifference
To disturb their nakedness

They keep their heads down
And their eyes gleam with reflection
From Aluminum economic ground,

The media wraps everything
In a cellophane of sound,
And the ghost surface of the virtual
Overlays the breathing earth.

The industry of distraction
Makes us forget
That we live in a universe

We have become converts
To the religion of stress
And its deity of progress

That we may have courage
To turn aside from it all

And come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety
Back into anger,
How to find our way home.

You can listen to the late John O’Donohue read some of his poems — including ones from To Bless the Space Between Us — as part of our Poetry Radio Project, here.

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