April 15, 2013 05:05 AM
Six weeks ago I had a profound religious experience at the corner of Blanshard and Fisgard.
I was in the Save-on-Foods Centre.
I do not know if one is allowed to have a religious experience in the Save-on-Foods Centre, but that is where it happened. I was not alone. I was with an estimated 5,999 other people sitting on little folding chairs on the main floor of the arena, or packed in tiered seats on three sides peering down on the stage at the east end of the auditorium.
We were gathered to listen to a 78-year-old man with a nine-piece band perform three and a half hours of sublime mystical music.
For all his nearly eight decades, Leonard Cohen takes the stage like a man on a mission. He sings with the intensity and focus of an evangelist of the spirit.
Of the thirty songs Cohen sang in Victoria on Wednesday March 6, six were from his 2012 album “Old Ideas”.
The old ideas of which Cohen sings are ideas of love and forgiveness. He is an evangelist of hope who finds the possibility of beauty in the brokenness of the human condition. He is a poet who sings in praise of the enduring power of life even in the face of deep suffering.
Leonard Cohen is not afraid of failure. He is not frightened by the darkness that lurks always at the edges of his poetry. He finds light in the midst of the difficult places. And through it all, after all these years, Cohen sings on; he still believes in the possibility of healing. In the voice of the Divine Cohen encourages his audience “to gather up the brokenness/ Bring it to me now / The fragrance of those promises / You never dared to vow.”
According to the Divine voice speaking again in “Going Home,” Cohen “wants to write a love song/ An anthem of forgiving / A manual for living with defeat.”
Most of all, Cohen seems buoyed by his vision of the enduring power of love. In his beautiful prayer “Amen” he pleads, “Tell me again when I’ve seen through the horror / Tell me again tell me over and over / Tell me that you’ll love me then / Amen.”
In front of 6,000 people an old man sings for three and a half hours about his trust in a love that can never be defeated. He pledges his trust in an unseen power that never dies, never goes away, and can never fail.
Leonard Cohen invites his audience into a deep religious experience.
As I sat surrounded by an auditorium filled with mostly strangers, I felt the rusty hinges of my tired old heart creak open just a little. And I knew, that the power of which Cohen sings had touched something deep in my being. The possibility of light was reborn in the darkness. The world seemed a more gentle place, the human community perhaps capable of a little more tenderness.
This is evangelism at its best.
My experience at the corner of Blanshard and Fisgard is the reason I find myself every Sunday on a different corner gathering with a much smaller group of people to sing and offer collective prayer for light in the midst of brokenness. The weekly gatherings in which I share do not always have quite the power of a Leonard Cohen concert. But, they are times when I can bring the broken shards of my being, and be pointed towards a healing presence that transcends the twisted pain of so much of life. I need this reminder. I need this constant encouragement that there are life-giving ways for “living with defeat.”
Christopher Page is the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, and the Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Anglican Diocese of B.C. He writes regularly at: www.inaspaciousplace.com
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