Leonard Cohen points a way forward for the church

Published June 1, 2009

Leonard Cohen sings about life and sin; a prophetic voice for the church.

Victoria, B.C.
THERE ARE 6,000 of us gathered in this sterile gray sports arena. We are mostly in our 50s. We are drawn here to listen to a 74-year-old singer who has been part of our lives for the past 30 years.

No one would say he is the greatest musician who has ever performed. Neither is he the most profound poet.

But as I sit in the darkened arena with his lyrics sounding in my heart, it seems to me that Leonard Cohen may be pointing a way forward for the church.  He is not splashy or trendy.  

In his haunting anthem “Hallelujah,” he announces, “I didn’t come to Victoria to fool ya.” And he is true to his word, gently pulling back the bandages on our wounded souls.

Cohen’s work acknowledges that life is complex and we have navigated life’s winding ways imperfectly at best. He tells us that sometimes we have failed; sometimes we have lost our way and wandered astray. We have struggled. We have been guilty of sin, have tried to forgive and begged for forgiveness.  

We have hurt one another, let each other down, betrayed those we love and failed to be true to our deepest convictions. We have been lost in loneliness and failed again and again at the mysterious enterprise of love.

Our awareness of the impermanence of life and the closeness of death has been at times overwhelming.

Cohen understands that “there is a crack in everything.” It is not that he is complaining. He simply describes our lives as we have lived them. It is good to name the brokenness we know is true.

But he does not leave us with the broken pieces. Cohen finds shards of light in the midst of the fractured fragments of our experience. “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

I wonder if those who visit our churches find this same openness, honesty and compassion.  Can the church be a place where we do not deny the cracks, but embrace them as the path through which the “light gets in”?  

Christopher Page is rector of St. Philip Anglican Church, Oak Bay, B.C.  


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