Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Old friends and Leonard Cohen's - Book of Mercy

It's been awhile.  It's odd to me how it feels like I'm visiting an old friend when I return to write in this blog.  A satisfaction edged with apprehension.  How have I (we) changed?  Can we still be close?  Can I say something that cuts through time and artifice?  That resists nostalgia and habit to try to find newer if not higher ground.  Loudon Wainwright III song Old Friend comes to mind.

My wife Dorothy gave me Leonard Cohen's "Book of Mercy" for Christmas.  This was originally published in 1984 and has been described a "classic book of contemporary psalms."  For me this book is a collection of disturbing but oddly comforting prayers. Words that speak to me and for me. Unvarnished and unsettling, bubbling with hope, grounded in a deep faith.

"Blessed are you who has given each man a shield of loneliness so that he cannot forget you.  You are the truth of loneliness, and only your name addresses it.  Strengthen my loneliness that I may be healed in your name, which is beyond all consolations that are uttered on this earth.  Only in your name can I stand in the rush of time, only when this loneliness is yours can I lift my sins toward your mercy."

These words of haunting religious imagery summon up an unsuspected bridge towards hope and salvation.

"Strengthen my loneliness that I may be healed in your name."  This rings true in such an odd way for me.  It's like I'm in an empty room with a large metal church bell in the center.  When it first rings the sound is clear and pure but soon the overlapping reflections become dissonant and annoying.  I start digging beneath the words and end up falling through a hole.

Last week I drove to Albany to see some old friends.  It's now been two years since moving away.  I'm making a real effort to keep these friendships alive but time and separation take their toll.  Creeping tentacles of estrangement.  Trip home listening to Jennifer Warnes sing Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat. Captures my mood perfectly. Grateful tears of loneliness? Perhaps.

Sometimes I don't know if Cohen is helping me untie the knots in my head or making them more complex. In a prior blog I quoted his definition of grace. It seems to fit here.

 "a state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you. its not a matter of resolving the chaos as there is something arrogant and war-like about putting the world in order but having that kind of an escape ski, down over a hill, just going through the contours"

And so...

"Blessed are you who has given each man a shield of loneliness so that he cannot forget you."

How strange and wonderful.