Leonard Cohen. I can’t get enough of this Canadian poet/songwriter. He began singing in the late 1960’s and is currently on his “last” world tour. Amazingly, the man turns 80 this year and is still at it! While he’s apparently not for everyone (some in my family glare at me when I put him on), his deep voice and moving lyrics resonate with my heart.
One of the losses I am still grieving is last year Betsy and I were going to go to one of his concerts in Austin, Texas with some dear friends of ours. My health at that time kept me from traveling, so I stayed behind while the three of them went on without me. Please don’t think ill of them. It was my decision that Betsy go anyway. I’m humble like that – and hardly bitter at all.
“Anthem” is one of my favorite songs of his. In it are these words:
When you have a terminal illness that is slowly destroying your body, on the dark days it’s easy to forget that, no matter what your limitations, you still have a calling and purpose for being on this earth. Cohen serves to remind me that as broken as this world and I may be, there are bells that still can ring. It is my job to find them and ring them with all my heart and strength so as to continue to bring beauty and light to our world.
If these are the final chapters of my life (or even if they are not), what do I want to give myself to in this world? For me, the bells I want to ring are kindness, encouragement, sacrificial love, and helping others – all gifts I have personally received in abundance of late. I so much want to give something back of what so many of you have given to me. My heart is full of deep passion to do this.
It’s funny, but I have no time left to take a bell ringing class, as much as I would like to do so. Perfectionism, alas, is no longer an option for me. All my life I’ve thought if I could be good enough, work hard enough, and impress you enough, then perhaps you would love me for my perfection. After all, I would have earned it. Today, as my cancer is bringing increased limitations to me, I am confronted with a new irony – I have never felt so loved (see http://wedonotloseheart.com/never-felt-so-loved/) at a time when I can do so little to earn it.
When Cohen sings, “Forget your perfect offering,” his words invite me into a reality I have tried to avoid all of my life. Ultimately, I have nothing to offer God and you but my increasing brokenness. How devastating – yet how liberating!
Later in the song he sings, “Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.” I used to think my hard-earned strength and abilities would carry the day for me so that I could then help you. Now I am the refugee Cohen is singing about – a broken man looking for a new country, dependent upon the unconditional love of Another to take me there.
Out of the ashes of my childhood, I responded with a vow of perfectionism. I would be a perfect man, a perfect husband, a perfect father, and the perfect pastor of a perfect church (my wife, children and former parishioners are laughing right now, I’m sure). In this way, I would live safely above all the brokenness around me and in me. I would even be the guy who patched up all of your cracks – for which you would be so grateful. If you weren’t, I would be perfectly self-righteous and angry at you.
Again, Cohen interrupts my agenda by declaring something the Bible has taught since the book of Genesis: we are all broken and cracked – even you, Ed. And would you please stop trying to patch everything (including yourself) up? It will never be sufficient and, frankly, it’s arrogant – a self-help gospel that is ultimately unattainable. I don’t mean you ought not make the world a better place. First things first, though. Let your brokenness drive you to Me.
But, God, look at the mess we have made of things. We’re not doing so well down here! Who will put all this back together again?
Ed, do you not yet understand?
The brokenness you’ve been trying to fix up?
The cracks you have been trying to patch up?
That’s how the light gets in.
“Only the sick need a physician.” – Jesus, Luke 5:31
Sick, but still singing,
P.S. If you would like to listen to some samples of Cohen’s music (and perhaps buy a track or album), you can find him on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/leonard-cohen/id485677 .