I stumbled onto a treasure this weekend in the bookstore. Leonard Cohen. I’ve been a fan of his music for a long time, from the silky Art Garfunkel-esqe sound of his younger days to the deep, baritone rasps of his golden years, and though I’ve picked up his books of poetry often enough out of curiosity, I had never actually bought one until this weekend. It’s called Book of Mercy. It’s a collection of what can only be described as psalms.
Each is brief, never more than a page. The book is easily read in a single sitting but instead of closing the cover when I finished, I found myself turning back the pages to read them again. He captures the structure, language, and tone of the Psalms perfectly but it’s his honesty that drives them home. They are written in brokenness and longing but infused with certainty that God is sovereign. He lifts up to God everything from his own faithlessness to the fate of nations and is often so effective, so evocative, that his words could lie alongside those of the biblical Psalmist and not seem out of place.
I’m including a few excerpts here to give you a taste of how rich a text this is. I hope Mr. Cohen won’t mind. If you can find a copy of the Book of Mercy, by all means, grab it and soak it up.
From Book of Mercy by Leonard Cohen
“You who question souls, and to whom souls must answer, do not cut off the soul of my son on my account. Let the strength of his childhood lead him to you, and the joy of his body stand him upright in your eyes. May he discern my prayer for him, and to whom it is uttered, and in what shame. I received the living waters and I held them in a stagnant pool. I was taught but I did not teach. I was loved but I did not love. I weakened the name that spoke me, and I chased light with my own understanding. Whisper in his ear. Direct him to a place of learning. Illuminate his child’s belief in mightiness […] bless him with a soul that remembers you, that he may uncover it with careful husbandry. They who wish to devour him have grown powerful on my idleness. They have a number for him, and a chain. Let him see them withered in the light of your name. Let him see their dead kingdom from the mountain of your word. Stand him up upon his soul, bless him with the truth of manhood.”
And from #48
“[…]I established a court, and I fell asleep under a crown, and I dreamed I could rule the wicked. Awaken me to the homeland of my heart where you are worshiped forever. Awaken me to the mercy of the breath which you breathe into me. Remove your creature’s self-created world, and dwell in the days that are left to me. Dissolve the lonely dream which is the judgment on my ignorance, and sweep aside the work of my hands, the barricades of uncleanliness, which I commanded against the torrents of mercy. Let your wisdom fill my solitude, and from the ruin raise your understanding. Blessed is the name of the glory of your kingdom forever and ever. What I have not said, give me the courage to say. What I have not done, give me the the will to do. It is you, and you alone who refines the heart, you alone who instructs mortals, who answers the trembling before you with wisdom. Blessed is the name of the one who keeps faith with those who sleep in the dust, who has saved me again and again. To you is the day, and the conscious night, to you alone the only consecration. Bind me, intimate, bind me to your wakefulness.”
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.