18 February 2022
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.
Before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.
The Church Calendar is now in Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday, 2 March 2022. During this month in Ordinary Time, I hope to continue this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:
1, Short reflections drawing on the writings of a great saint or spiritual writer;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
At present, I am exploring the writings of the great Carmelite mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), so my quotations over these few days are from her writings:
‘Christ has no body now but mine. He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet and loves with my heart.’
Mark 8: 34 to 9: 1 (NRSVA):
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ 1 And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 February 2022) invites us to pray:
We give thanks for those throughout the history of the Church who have stood up to discrimination and injustice. May we be inspired by their actions.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org