It’s all over now.

On the 12th day of Christmas….

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This is the only Epiphany ‘rock’ song I know. I have used it so many times. A highlight of my gig going was once seeing this band perform the whole album that this song is from.

I like the quiet, reflective nature of the song. I like the sense of ‘we have seen and now what will happen?’ They had to go back by a different way. Maybe in one sense, they never ever went ‘back’- they couldn’t; they were changed.

I like this sense of Epiphany- there are no maps. Blogging has been part of me; the decision to stop/take a break means there are no maps. To grow you often have to go beyond where the maps exist.

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Indulge me with two more songs, since this is my last ‘Friday Music’. I have used these songs a number of times on here: they have influenced much of my writing and thinking and, one day, they will be my funeral songs.

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This is not my favourite U2 song, but it is the song that set me off on a journey years ago of  ‘there is more out there’; I still haven’t found what I’m looking for- I know, but I don’t know. These words always speak deeply to me about faith, reality and human nature. This song gave me the prompt to write an MA thesis on U2 and theology and taught me a lot about ways of communicating faith to people who might be hostile to it.

A prominent artist in the camp I used more readily identify with rewrote this as ‘I’ve finally found what I’m looking for’. Words cannot do justice to what I think about that, but it heightened my distaste for ‘Christian rock’ and gave me a distrust of those who, faced with mystery, lament and questions want to cover them up with easy answers.

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I bought a book about 20 years ago called ‘Grain in Winter’- a beautiful book of thoughts, insights and anecdotes from a minister who had retired early with illness. I didn’t ‘get’ it all at the time; I mostly do now. It encouraged me to think, see differently and be open to strange, sometimes disturbing, insights.

In it he had the lines ‘Ring out the bells that still can ring; forget the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in’. I was intrigued; I’d heard of Leonard Cohen but never listened to him. After getting that book I began to listen and found a prophet of the human spirit who helped me more than I can say.

If I had to chose just one song for a desert island I would choose this one. I always get something new out of it and it always moves me.

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In the 2nd blog entry I ever wrote on diggingalot.blogspot.co.uk, way back in June 2008, just before a sabbatical, I wrote these words (the Bible reference is from the book of Hosea and it was where I got the ‘diggingalot’ idea from. Even out of context, they feel oddly prescient about where I am now:-

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‘Sow for yourself righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord.


I find those words really powerful at the moment. Maybe a sabbatical is a time to do just that- break up fallow ground, dig around a bit- work out what I’m doing, attend to stuff I leave or shut out.

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And now I take my leave of you: at least for a while. I may do more blogging, but I don’t know when. Thanks for reading what I have written and (sometimes) reacting to it. And now I leave, not quite wise, certainly not a king, to take my own journey a long way around the sea…

String Reprise/Treaty

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When I began looking at this album, I had hoped to have finished on a significant day, say Sunday. That day there would be plenty of time to reflect on this album and the deep thoughtfulness that pervades this final offering from Leonard Cohen.

Yet today is dark Monday in December : a day when contemplation is at a low ebb. However, as the underlying theme of this album is the singer’s own awareness of his end, perhaps it is the best day- death beds are rarely as portrayed in film; they just happen.

After a long string quartet piece, Cohen’s voice comes in for just one verse:-

‘I wish there was a treaty we could sign
It’s over now, the water and the wine
We were broken then but now we’re borderline
And I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine’

I think that is just beautiful; slippery, elusive and yet heartfelt. A longing for perfection that will never come- ‘now we see dimly, then we shall see face to face’, an honest acknowledgement that there are no happy endings, only healed ones & still an underlying seeking; the kind that has always made his music speak to me.

I can’t think of an album that I own that has ever moved me so much.

Amen.

 

Steer your way

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I like this song very much. I like the sage guidance, the refusal to be identified by a tribe or label, the raw honesty and the humour.

I also love the skewering of our modern mores with the simple couplet:-

‘As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make things cheap’

But I also like the tune.

There are times, when you listen to Cohen, turn back to contemporary music and wonder how they exist on the same planet: so rich and deep are tracks like this one.

 

 

It seemed the better way

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Seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
Now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek
Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today
I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death
Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today
I better hold my tongue
I better take my place
Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace
Seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
But now

Equivocation in worship is rarely spoken about, but I reckon many of us are in that place: we are sure, but at the same time we are not sure. We know we are supposed to be full of zeal, but we often feel worn out. We know what Hope is, but at the same time we wonder if it is real.

Sometimes it is not spoken about as we wonder if any one else feels like it. Perhaps when we have spoken haltingly of it, someone else has felt so threatened by it they have tried to close us down. It is necessary for a balanced diet of sung worship to have ecstatic songs in major chords; I know that, but you can have too many that talk of constant confidence.

For all of these reasons, I am grateful that we have songs like this one; if only for those of us, despite all of our feelings, who still want to lift this glass of blood and try to say The Grace.

 

Leaving the table

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Not many of us can leave gracefully; we imagine we will be here forever. Adverts don’t help: people age, but still look like older versions of our product buying selves, with the same desires, plans and hopes that they always had.

Facing up to your end and the changes in life as you age is hard to do. I am glad that artists like Leonard Cohen help us to do so with wit, integrity, grace and humour.

If I didn’t have your love

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If I had kept in sequence, today I would have used ‘Leaving the table’, but this track is ideal for Sunday.

With echoes of the books of Habakkuk & the Psalms, this for me is one of the highlights of the album.

It could be read as being to a woman, but I hear it as a simple, confessional prayer. Much as I am cautious of reading too much authorial intent into and song, I think it was in fact meant as a prayer: prayer at its most honest- broken, fragmented and humble. Either way, you may hear more naked honesty here than in many a church service.

Listen and wonder…listen and pray….

Friday Music: On the level

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‘I was fighting with temptation
But I didn’t want to win
A man like me don’t like to see
Temptation caving in’

Some people say that Leonard Cohen was morbid. I don’t think he was; he could be playful and full of wry humour. The above lyric is honest but also mischievous. It is one I will remember and add to my mental grab bag of quotes.

I like the fact that with his songs, like all great poetry, it is hard to be fully certain as to what they are about. Maybe this is about an old man looking back at love, at its place in his life and the women he has known. Maybe it is about the fact that at 82 and fading you are just as open to that, even though you lack the wherewithal to go through with it: I don’t know.

More than ever, I like the fact that in this song, like many others, he avoids the easiness of ‘either/or’:-

‘My lost, my lost was saying found
My don’t was saying do’

Which is about the most honest way of talking about the reality of being tempted. It is a bit like the Apostle Paul (although less humorously) saying ‘I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate’.

Life will be harder without Leonard…

Treaty

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I used to respond more readily to social media debates about the big issues. I still do to some extent; sharing (hopefully selectively) posts and articles about them, leavening it with irony and humour. At least I hope I do; you can deceive yourself very easily. However, increasingly ‘I do not care who takes this bloody hill’; firm debates with trenchant views tend just lead to no light, little understanding and more bodies on that blood ravaged hill.

I have listened to this song, imagining the voice of the Divine singing it and then imagining one of us singing it. It works both ways and I think Cohen’s imagery flits between the two. It seems to express at moments profound doubt.

Perhaps it is possible to see it as a response of a man taking his leave of the world, longing that his thoughts, actions and emotions be aligned with God, but knowing that there were always differences. If we are honest, those of us who have faith, however strong or weak have this level of equivocation. Most of us, however, pretend that it is not the case. We may get to the level of saying:-

‘I’m so sorry for the ghost I made you be’.

But rarely:-

‘Only one of us was real and that was me’.

Whatever: I wish at the end, despite my everyday equivocations that I could still say:-

‘You were my ground, my safe and sound, my aerial’.

A break from Leonard for a couple of days….

You want it darker

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I remember it clearly.

I was stood in the middle of a music/video shop in Middlesbrough and it came on; not just one track, but the whole album. Voice deeper than the strongest dark, ground coffee and poetry, at first almost impenetrable, but then speaking to me ( although I didn’t fully understand what exactly it was saying).

It was a moment of transcendence; I could hardly move and it was a wrench to leave the shop. It was difficult  to talk afterwards- the music was so compelling. Epiphanies are often like that.

About two weeks later I heard that he died and I bought the album and played it, played it again and keep playing it.

In hindsight, this track is eerily prescient: ‘I’m ready my Lord’. Years ago I remember hearing a retiring minister who had had an international profile telling the assembled gathering that no one  who had talked to him about his retirement had asked him if he was prepared for his death.

‘I’m ready my Lord’. Now as I hear those words, I pause and remember that he was ready for his death. As a fifty year old and aware more than ever that life is fragile, I wonder if I am.

As for the rest of the track; well I leave that for wiser minds, save to say I have rarely heard a better grappling with human sin and suffering and how we ‘kill the flame’…

I am hoping to give a thought on each track of this album, maybe consecutively, maybe not. Of all the albums I possess, this has moved me the most.