Last Sunday at church hearing this reading got me thinking…
ANTHEM by Leonard Cohen
The birds they sing
At the break of day
“Start again”, I heard them say
On what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.
Yeah, the war’s they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought, sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.
Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We ask for signs,
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
The widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see
I can run no more with that godless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
They have summoned up, summoned up, a thundercloud
And they’ll hear from me
Ring the bell…
You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
To every heart, every heart, love will come
But like a refugee
Ring the bell…
Last Sunday a guest speaker who is a poet and a theologian took us into the depths of faith that exists in the midst of darkness. He used this reading/song by Leonard Cohen as the scripture. Cohen was a contemplative and an evolutionary thinker. He understood the unity of everything in such a way that paradox was the mystery where God becomes visible. Two ideas that are poles apart come together in the present moment. It is a mystery that reveals the holy presence of God. This was the perfect introduction to Advent for me. The paradox is: Christ has come and Christ is coming and in this moment, we embrace both realities. Christ is here, yet still coming. We have the ancient record and we have our own experience of the one who has come, but sometimes we experience the absence of God and are in the dark looking forward to Christ’s coming again.
The first verse of Anthem speaks of the process of entering life again today. “Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.” He doesn’t say ignore the past. In fact, faith is a celebration, a remembering of what has been; and it is also a promise, a hope, a vision of what is yet to be. Hold these but do not dwell on them. Because just when you think you get it, he says “…the war’s they will be fought again, the holy dove, she will be caught again, bought, sold and bought again.” I think we do buy into wishful thinking, or is it a teaching, that if we have enough faith, if we get it right, everything will be good again and it will stay that way forevermore. And then we get disappointed and angry when our world shifts again. Our faith is fluid and flexible and messy. And when the crack appears it is revelation and we understand that Christ is here in us right now.
Cohen says to forget about being perfect, thinking there is a way of being right for God. We think there is a blueprint for happiness that we can buy with our blind obedience. His poem says, “…There‘s a crack, a crack in everything.” That does not mean everything is broken, or does it mean that? Maybe brokenness is the perfect state because “…That’s how the light gets in”. It is in that moment when things break apart or break open that new life, new possibilities, new awarenesses come in.
When I heard the verse, “I can run no more with that godless crowd, While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud”, my brain went to the controversy we are having in our world about the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman. The leaders of the United States and Canada understand the price of friendship with the killers who say their prayers out loud. Bin Salman has bought our allegiance with billions of dollars of contracts that provide jobs, and we must decide where we stand with murder and the kind of person who publicly professes his willingness to gain power and will do anything keep it. Will we look the other way? Or will we say, “They have summoned up, summoned up, a thundercloud, and they’ll hear from me.” Yeah, but what will they hear? What do we believe? Is it worth the sacrifice? There is darkness here and we have to decide where it is and if we want to be a part of it. Are we willing to pay the price? There is a cost to defending this behaviour, to looking the other way. And there is a cost to calling it out as unacceptable.
As I write this post Trudeau is choosing sanctions to declare Canadian opposition to this kind of behaviour. I think this is the moral high ground for today. The American administration is still considering their response. There is a cost to standing up to darkness. It is not a victory march, it is riding into town on a donkey. It is coming into the world as a refugee. “To every heart, every heart, love will come, But like a refugee.” This feels right and true but I am still trying to get words to describe my understanding.
I will be leading a contemplative service the second week of Advent on the theme of Peace. Here is the paradox. “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27) and “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
And I am still processing this…