31 December 2021
‘You let me sing, you lifted me up,
you gave my soul a beam to travel on’
This is New Year’s Eve, but in my Friday evening reflections I am also reading some of the poems in Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy, one of the books I received as a present this week.
This book of psalms by Leonard Cohen is a personal and powerful collection. It was first published in 1984, and was republished 35 years later in 2019 by Canongate of Edinburgh. It is a slim volume of Cohen’s contemporary psalms, and it has been elegantly repackaged.
Like the psalms, the themes in the short poems in Book of Mercy include praise, despair, anger, doubt, trust and the search for the presence of God.
Constantly, Cohen speaks of God as ‘the Name’ – Hashem (השם) – is a title used in Judaism to refer to God without using God’s name. Rabbinic Judaism considers seven names of God so holy that, once written, they should not be erased, and restricts the use of the names of God to a liturgical context.
When Cohen says ‘Blessed be the Name,’ he is saying ‘Blessed be God.’
Speaking from the heart of the modern world, yet in tones that resonate with an older Jewish tradition, these verses give voice to the deepest and most powerful intuitions.
This Friday evening, I am reading one of these short poems (p 28):
You let me sing, you lifted me up, you gave my soul a beam to travel on. You folded your distance back into my heart. You drew the tears back to my eyes. You hid me in the mountain of your word. You gave the injury a tongue to heal itself. You covered my head with my teacher’s care, you bound my arm with my grandfather’s strength. O beloved speaking, O comfort whispering in the terror, unspeakable explanation of the smoke and cruelty, undo the self-conspiracy, let me dare the boldness of joy.
Shabbat Shalom, Happy New Year