Leonard Cohen's latest album, Popular Problems, includes one song titled, Born in Chains, in which we find these lyrics:
I've heard the soul unfolds
In the chambers of its longing
And the bitter liquor sweetens
In the hammered cup
Let's try to tease some of the ripples evoked by such words.
An unfolding soul, like an opening petal of a rose, finds its voice, meaning and coloration only in its searchings, its hopes and its painful pursuit of whatever it turns itself to seeking.
There are no maps for this unfolding; there are no instruments to foretell the pathways or the snags or the turbulences of the winds to be encountered in listening to the rhythms and the melodies of the longing. As we seek out the weather to plan our days, and then shape those plans to fit into that weather, we form a perception that we are 'fitting into' that natural flow of temperatures and winds and degrees of light or dark.
Our longings, conversely, fit no weather, comply with no natural conditions that make them appropriate and simply emerge like crude from the depths of our being....like emotional energy that needs neither pipes nor pumps for its extraction.
Chambers of longing, like the pipes of the organ, generate sounds of dreams, sights of visions, hours of hopes that contain within their essences all the seeds of all of our tomorrows. They are the pulses that drive our bodies, our imaginations and our encounters. Just this week, on re-reading something I wrote when I was a mere pre-teen, I found words, written completely in innocence and naivety, that have served as one of many beacons that have provided direction and even motivation in all of the activities and reflections for the subsequent many decades. Are there others whose early thoughts and observations now seem to have been the seeds of many of the paths undertaking in the decades and in the meetings and in the projects that followed?
Does the bitter liquor (really) sweeten in the hammered cup?
I have a colleague whose sister had planned to give her a hand-crafted chalice as commemorative gift upon the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood. When the chalice emerged from the oven of its forging, it was profoundly bent, rendering it inappropriate for the original gift purpose. However, she nevertheless decided to offer it, and later replace it with a "perfect" one.
The recipient, my colleague, refused the second "perfect" chalice, preferring the bent one, as a much more appropriate vessel for the Eucharistic wine, given the "bent" (or "hammered") reality of all of our lives.
Needless to say, the bent chalice found its way into the sanctuaries of many churches, as other clergy learned of its existence. Did Cohen hear the story? Or did Cohen learn the same truth from difference sources within his circles?
Whatever the source, Cohen continues to give lyrical release to many of the kernels of insight of the "people of the past" whose lives included "singing" unlike the lives of many today....
If you have not yet found the new album, you will not be disappointed....it will haunt your "unfolding soul" as you set aside all the busyness and really LISTEN....allowing your unique and bittersweet wine to sweeten and find its voice.