I want you to give me the key that opens the door to the room where there is no ‘I’ and there is no ‘You.’ You want me to hold the final hour of my life in the wholeness hidden in the center of my chest, whether it is midnight or midday. You want me to tend the dove you send, and take the olive branch, when it lands at my feet, not as symbol but as fact. I want to rest my left cheek on your lap. I want to see each one of your creatures in the same warm light out of which she appears, your daughter, my close companion in the night. You want me to stand alone by the strength of your name. You want me to breathe on the ember and restore the flame. I want you to break my fixed belief in the immortality of my brokenness. I want you to give me back my unspeakable name. You want me to leave the judgment up to you. You want me to fall on my knees, struck dumb by the truth, undone by remorse for the thousands of hard dark-blue nights in which I failed to call on your mercy. I want you to warn me when I’ve nearly reached the gates of hell. I want you to teach me how to earn your help. You want me to realize I can never deserve what Forever freely gives. You want me to live in the room where only the dying and the risen live. I want you to give me the key that opens the door.
Let me not deplete my strength attacking the thick vines behind which my head, bed-ridden with the sickness of words, hides from the living world. Instead of seeking peace by means of increasing violence, let me breathe deeply into the heart’s vaulted silence. Let the work be accomplished in this private canyon, which the clean red rivers in my veins continually carve. Let the refined Will find me upright and still: quiet enough to hear the cries of a crumbling spirit for guidance and clarity; honest enough to number myself among the hungry, the fearful, and the helpless; humble enough to fling myself at the feet of my Lord and beg, Please, let me sing.
Lost in the silence, oppressed by want before the sun rises, I haunt the borders of my heart, sucking my hitchhiker’s thumb, greedy for milk from a substitute mother, hungry to be held. I struggle with ancient luggage, too heavy to carry alone. Strum on the strings of my heart, reassure me of your presence. Wait for my voice in the morning, and I’ll wait for yours at night. Let me speak as if you are with me, sitting poised across the table, able to respond in kind. In the heat of time I blind myself to your mercy. I fold with a full house, go all-in with a ten-four. I drift in a cloud that holds nothing else. Drop me into the ark again. Send me down to my place when somehow I end up at the helm, awakening to the shouts of deckhands, Captain, sir, it’s high time we get moving. You know I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I never learned to read the currents. I need so much help to reach the calm seas and clear skies. I entrust your law to guide this ship through flood and fog. I stand in position on the leeward deck. Now take complete control, and steer this hull to the distant shores of my soul.
Let your wisdom swim through my skin like the breath in my lungs, like fish in the sea, like a school of dolphins taking turns at the lead. Lead me out of the shallows, into the deep. Play your hallowed verses through the wounds in my flesh, and let your music release the sobs in my chest. In the sealed room, in the healing darkness of morning, let me learn anew what it means to keep my heart center open.
Love, kill now my best intentions. Will me into your presence, with gentle guidance or with firm control. Place the bread on my plate and forgive my hesitation, my demand for something else to eat, my rejection of your gift, my abandonment of your tender touch that never abandons me. Grant me the clarity not to avert my eyes from the unrelenting stare of my dying, but rather to widen my heart to include both sides of the balanced scale. Let the events of the day be the daily pill I take to make me well. Help me to hold both the precious dove resting on the olive branch, and the hungry vultures circling the charnel grounds, inside your balanced heart, which cannot grow bitter, which cannot be harmed.
You sow my stony ground with winnowed grain. You answer my wordless prayers without a word. When the riptides of loneliness drag me back into the storm, you guide my shrinking form from sea to shore. And still I wrap my ripped skin in thin strips of gauze. Grant me the courage to strip off my masks and inhabit your silence in nakedness and need, embracing completely whatever brings you near, whatever dissolves the walls of fear and waters the grass in the prison yard. Melt the iron rod, and spread my body on the bread of Life. Without you, I go hungry in America, land of plenty, land of empty promises of liberty. Liberate me from the way I cling to everything I’d kill to keep. Bring back my soul to your tree like a leaf in spring. Gather the seeds my grasping hands have scattered, and plant in the depths of my pain the pearl of your measureless grain.
As a bird, when tricked by a mirror image of itself in the sky, will fling its wings against the frame, hindering its inborn ability to fly, so too do the illusions in my vision injure my capacity to soar. My soul falls from its deathless star, and my body crumbles to the hard wet sand. I crawl underneath a parched plant to await the desert of absence, or recover the truth beyond the pall and pale, your miraculous resurrection. Find me here, my battered Lord, and beat your name in my chest like a drum. Find me here, and let me come to the blessed recognition of the Word beyond death, beyond fear.
As a child, I liked to move. Play basketball, run around with my brother Collin, double-bounce him on the trampoline. But I would always want to do my homework first, and then I could let myself have fun. And this is still the case. I need to do my homework, and then I can have fun. What is my homework? My work is to be at home in my life, in my body, to embrace the place where I am standing in the present moment. To find the endless summer at the heart of this cold winter morning. I want so much to be in medias res, in the middle of things. I want to glimpse the center, to enter by the narrow gate, and to live from the core. Lord of my life, help me to feel this wish with my entire being. Point me toward you. Make my heart single. Let my voice sing of Life experienced, not by an isolated individual, but by a single soul united in the depths with all souls, by one man at one with your Oneness, in touch at last with your Is-ness. Do not let me forget what I want. Do not let me drift. Help me to stay directed, to finish my home-work, and to enjoy the journey home.
Inside the clarifying whisper of a bare room, I carry the gift of total engagement with a loose grip. I ask the god of clarity to open the ears of my heart, awaken the eyes of my mind. I surrender my conditioned hatred of trivial irritations, and I rivet my attention on a particle of dust a ray of light enlightens. I watch my soul return to the lake it swims in at dawn, and I watch dawn rise to the challenge of my chosen task. And I ask my master: may Time in its violent density lie down naked with Eternity in its eloquent silence. And out of their intangible union, from the annihilating depths of love, may the man’s true nature arise.
Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you. The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light. Blocked by every thought, I fly on the wisp of a remembrance. Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle. And here is the opening in defeat. And here is the clasp of the will. And here is the fear of you. And here is the fastening of mercy. Blessed are you, in this man’s moment. Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil. Blessed are you who brings chains out of darkness. Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 45