“My heart sings of your longing for me, and my thoughts climb down to marvel at your mercy. I do not fear as you gather up my days. Your name is the sweetness of time, and you carry me close into the night, speaking consolations, drawing down lights from the sky, saying, See how the night has no terrors for one who remembers the Name.”
As a writer, I don’t usually start a project until my brain starts to like boil over with a lengthy string of only-slightly-connected thoughts. The origins of this one were many and varied, but basically boil down to two things: monks and Leonard Cohen. (We’ll talk monks at a later date.)
I’m one of those incredibly snooty and judgmental Leonard Cohen fans who cannot resist getting all judgey towards people who only know “Hallelujah.” Or refer to it as “that song from Shrek.” Now, I don’t mind admitting this is totally hypocritical convert’s zeal; “Hallelujah” was my first Cohen song too. I think it’s his gateway drug. You start off with this lilting, trippy, vaguely-Biblical love song, and from there you maybe move to “Suzanne” or “Sisters of Mercy” which are both lovely and sweet and romantic . . . and then before you know it he’s got you hooked on the hard stuff and you’re reading his blood-and-guts poetry or listening to him rasp about lurid sexual encounters in the Chelsea Hotel and wondering who you have become.
Oh. Really? Just me? Huh.
I came late to Leonard Cohen; I was well out of my own all-too-brief fling with moral irresponsibility (also known as “college”) and settling down to a grownup job and life before I discovered his 2-disc Greatest Hits album at Everyday Music in downtown Portland. But like all great spiritual guides, Cohen was placed into my life – I truly believe this – so he could be there when I really needed him, which was when my mom was dying. There is absolutely no greater wallowing-in-despair-and-hopelessness music on earth than Leonard Cohen. I cannot recommend it too highly. It was around then that I also discovered his poetry, in particular a series of prayers he wrote that remind me of the Book of Job or some of the more bloodthirsty Psalms. I was entranced by theology of this man who was once a dapper, suit-and-fedora-wearing manwhore, working his way through a roster of celebrity girlfriends and hookups, and then somehow morphed into a Buddhist/Jewish scholar of comparative religion. I like messy complex people, who spiritually sort of bumble around and knock things over and go twenty wrong directions before accidentally happening upon the correct path to where they want to go. I love that. I use Leonard Cohen in the Confirmation classes I teach at my church for high schoolers; they struggle with the density of his metaphor sometimes, but they’re never bored. When he pleads, “Do not leave me where the stars go out”, or describes God as a tiny pinhole of light in a wall smeared with feces, or writes of swimming to God through a sea of blood, or falling off a cliff and feeling the wind tearing at his clothes but knowing that God will catch him and lift him up before he crashes and breaks all his bones . . . it’s so visceral and physical and compelling that I sometimes wonder if he’s really some kind of mystic. We don’t think of God in those terms, not us respectable Latin-chanting Catholics. God should not be that . . . unsettling.
The title How the Light Gets In is taken from a song called “Anthem,” which in a lot of ways is really the theme of the entire story. The full line goes like this: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget this perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” I can’t tell you how much I love that line, and that idea – there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Of course. Everybody’s flawed, everybody’s broken, everyone’s a mess, but it’s in our brokenness and messiness that we encounter the truth about ourselves, love, God’s grace, hope, and all the things that make life worth living. Molly’s life is a mess, and when she comes to Saint Gabriel she’s been hurt and angry and lost and bitter for so long that she can’t see the light anymore. But if she hadn’t hit rock bottom, she wouldn’t have forced herself to get out. And if she hadn’t forced herself to get out, she’d never have ended up at Saint Gabriel, surrounded by people who genuinely care about her.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
That’s why I like Leonard Cohen.