I shrink back from my lack of direction. I blink once and come to months later, in the same exact location. Either I admit my honest terror in the face of barren obscurity, or I lock my soul in a windowless cell, and call it job security. Help me keep the faith I’ve never had. Help me feed the hope I’ve tried to kill. Hold me when I sweat through every pore, releasing the toxins that block me from breathing in your perfect air. Without you I become my song of lonely longing in the Texas night. If I must gnaw this bone without you, then send me deeper into the valley of separateness. Help me remember my thirst, whenever I pull from the well. Remember my hunger, whenever you ring the bell. Remember my poverty, whenever I cling to time. Remember my nakedness, whenever you house my mind. Remember my homelessness, whenever I find my home.
My heart’s happiness is trapped in my chest like a red-breasted bird whose vocal cords are shot. His dumb fate blocks him from singing out the songs of lament locked inside his throat, while numbing memories of the unrepeatable songs of praise he once sang as a chirping little one mock him mercilessly. The bird’s fixed idea of how impossibly filled with grace he used to be imprisons him in the silver cages of yearning. His magnetized mind takes flight from the muted now to the musical back then, and he feels no desire to come down. He feels the fire and the magic have forsaken him, and he aches to hear aloud the latent notes Time has pushed down to some hidden crevice of his being. He has gone deaf to the ever-present, everlasting Silence, which asks without force to inhabit him from the inside. Lord of bird and beast, let there be purpose and will to this creature’s suffering. Let him still rise and glide through the skies; let him still dive-bomb the earth; let him still play the role of high-flying bird, tied down though he is to the flights of his powerful reveries, left pining and unheard in his severed world of silence.
I wake in the evenings in this season of my life, an hour or two after the sun has gone down. I sit at the desk at night, and I lie back down as the sun climbs up the sky. I wake in the supple arms of a darkness distinct from every other darkness that has come before it, so why should I, and how could I, stay the same, as if I am not subject to the same law that keeps the seasons changing? The law of invisible evidence tells me I too am distinct, but not separate. No space exists between my essence and the presence of night, for I rest inside the pages of night’s book. It is a good night to stay within these lines.
Lend me courage, Lord and Master, to enter the stillness with a willing acceptance of my lack, and yet with fullness of hope that I might someday inhabit the castle at the center of my soul. Light your lantern in this dim forest, this thick Amazon, or give me the will to wait here until you do, until you take my hand in the dark night and lead me through. Until my trust in you is complete, I will pray in my thirst to embrace whatever roadblocks you place in my path. I will not pray for easy fulfillment of my every dispersed desire. I will not pray to complacently retire from the world of strife, the world of violence rife with polluted minds and tortured hearts. I will not pray for immediate and everlasting freedom from the enemy battalions whose only mission is to topple the towers of virtue in my own heart. I know the battle will go on for a long time. And as long as it does, I will pray only this: to always hold in my soul’s steady hands the double-edged sword of passionate discernment, in order to understand which cords of my bound original nature it is my task to cut through, and which of these cords I must leave for you.
Do not let me fall prey to the mechanical animal in my brain that calls me away from you. It looks and acts the same in me as it does in any caged creature. This beast is always ready to sever links with its human family, being altogether in pieces already, at the mercy of the crashing seas of circumstance. It cannot remain at home on its own shores, nor can it bask for long beneath the strong rays of another’s sun, for it lacks both an anchor to hold it steady, and an ark to take it safely across the river. Hone this loss-addicted, lusterless machine. Release the cold hand from panicked demands for another’s warmth, so the man can remember whose hand holds the key. Though I am eons from any final clarity, let disparity itself become fuel. Do not let the mud of confusion bury the blessing, but let the perishing puddles evaporate into the western wind; and, as the sun begins to set, let the spirit of beauty spearhead my inward evolution.
Sing, Creator of song, to the wholeness inside which my soul is aching to bring itself forth in these orphaned days. The rain pours with relentless force, and the mind tortures itself in forests too dense to take comfort. And though I flee to the desert in a seven-year drought, I go drenched in this rain. I enter the black hole of fantasy, racked with dreams of fantastic rescue. Never have I been reckless enough to wreck my old ships in search of new lands, yet here I stand, floored by the actual. Let me seek with reckless indifference to cost the intangible treasures that can never be lost, and let me reckon now with how I will raze my towers to brave my mortality. Do not rock my landlocked body to sleep tonight until I have prayed with the urgency this daily emergency demands.
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.
You are with me still. Even though I have been removed, and my place does not recognize me. Even though I have filled my heart with stones. And my beloved says, I will wait a little while behind this curtain – no, I have waited too long. You are with me still. Though I scorched away the tears of return in the forced light of victory, your rebuke still comforts me, you signify yourself among the dangers. Saying, Use this fear to know me, fix this exile toward my return. Though I am unwept, it is your judgement parches me. Though my praises for you are under ban, it is the balance of your mercy. And you are with me still. Saying, Search this out, it is you who have hidden yourself. Saying, Clear me in your troubled heart. Saying, I will come to you. Saying, I am here. Though I add membrane to membrane against your light, and heap up cities on the husk of your rebuke, when the sun and the moon are shining in the other pan, and you advance me through the solitude by such a kind degree, and you create the world before my eyes, and the one who hides in self-disgrace cannot say Amen, O slow to anger, you are with me, you are with me still.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 34
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
Stranded buccaneer, buck your fear-driven plan to seize the ship that flies no flag. Stand aside and hand the wheel to the attending captain, who senses the tides and sets his course by instinct and not by compass, who points the ship north and leans into the storm, for he means to go through it to the other side, where on the far undivided shore his true love abides. He takes each wave as his own, the shock he needs at this moment to speak his vow: that in this clashing marriage of sea and now and forever again, he will bow, he will bow to the very end, and seek to know a single word, borne of a crashing silence.
Now stand aside. Put aside the separate arm that commands its unpaid deck-hands to fire cannonballs at the flagless ship until nothing alive remains, the phantom limb that climbs aboard the deck now strewn with dead bodies to take back the wheel, stealing the map it has not learned to read, the one that leads to the treasure that mind-defended appendage buried in the homeland the very moment time began—and I, and I alone, began to forget the blessings of that essential land no pirated vessel will ever discover anew. Only the body brave enough to bend down and pick up the spade blazing with the heat of sincerity, to take the tool to the frozen earth until the ground that was hard and unyielding finally yields, and the whole body feels its resistance give way as the sharpened blade sinks into deep contact with soft soil—only that body, willing to lose its standing ground to be found anew in dark communion, can find the way back. Let that body, with steady hands, take the wheel.
This silence I have not treasured is my mother, and this storm I have not weathered is my father. As a captive son of storm and silence, let me lie down at the eastern edge of this chain-link fence and surrender to my parents in this extended hour just before dawn. Let me trust that neither father nor mother will let me bleed forever in the unreachable country, but that both together will teach me how to be reached, and how to be re-created in reconciliation with my co-creators.
It was a marriage made in water, and land and sea consummated their union all through the night, and all through the next day, and all through all days and nights to kingdom come. Why should I not sing of how the sea met the earth, how they came together with delight when the dawn’s bright reveal shed new light on the old truth that they had never been apart?
Why should I ask for another miracle? Why should I wait for another sign?