Friday, 18 February 2022

‘How beautiful our heritage, to have
this way of speaking to eternity’

Patrick Comerford

In my Friday evening reflections this evening, I have turned once again to some of the poems in Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy, one of the books I received as a present some months ago.

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 15), 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 and the poetry of John Donne:

This is the way we summon one another, but it is not the way we call upon the Name. We stand in rags, we beg for tears to dissolve the immoveable landmarks of hatred. How beautiful our heritage, to have this way of speaking to eternity, how bountiful this solitude, surrounded, filled, and mastered by the Name, from which all things arise in splendour, depending one upon the other.

Shabbat Shalom

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