07 January 2022

‘Open me, O heart of truth,
hollow out the stone …
I have no other hope’

Patrick Comerford

The New Year celebrations have passed, and in my Friday evening reflections I have turned again to some of the poems in Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy, one of the books I received as a present last 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 57), which is rooted in the traditions of Jewish spirituality, yet echoes many of the threads found in the spiritual writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, and the poetry of John Donne:

I turned you to stone. You stepped outside the stone. I turned you to desire. You saw me touch myself. I turned you into a tradition. The tradition devoured its children. I turned you to loneliness, and it corrupted into a vehicle of power. I turned you into a silence which became a roar of accusation. If it be your will, accept the longing truth beneath this wild activity. Open me, O heart of truth, hollow out the stone, let your Bride fulfil this loneliness. I have no other hope, no other moves. This is my offering of incense. This is what I wish to burn, my darkness with no blemish, my ignorance with no flaw. Bind me to your will, bind me with these threads of sorrow, and gather me out of the afternoon where I have torn my soul on twenty monstrous altars, offering all things but myself.

Shabbat Shalom

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