"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Music Tuesday: Memorial for Leonard Cohen

The singer-songwriter-poet-novelist Leonard Cohen passed away last week and I really want to commemorate the occasion.  I loved his music.  From the LA Times

Leonard Cohen, a singer-songwriter whose literary sensibility and elegant dissections of desire made him one of popular music’s most influential and admired figures for four decades, has died. He was 82.

“Unmatched in his creativity, insight, and crippling candor, Leonard Cohen was a true visionary whose voice will be sorely missed,” said his manager Robert Kory, confirming Cohen’s death in statement. “He leaves behind a legacy of work that will bring insight, inspiration, and healing for generations to come.”

The cause of death was not released.

It was not released, but it was cancer. 

It has amazed me how many people have never heard of Leonard Cohen, or if they have they no so little of his music.  He is sort of described as the Canadian Bob Dylan because his early compositions were also folk and because his lyrics were highly poetic.  In my review of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature I stated how and explained why most song lyrics are not poetry and that is still the case with Cohen, but frankly I think Cohen’s lines are much closer to poetic than Dylan’s.  The LA times article continues:

In songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah,” and in his poems and two novels, the Montreal-born artist provided a rarefied alternative to more accessible troubadours, employing meticulous language to plumb the vagaries of the human condition.

His dry, monotone voice, which over the years deepened to a cigarette-charred whisper, contributed to Cohen’s popular image as a depressed — and depressing — artist. He teasingly alluded to that stereotype in one of his songs, referring to “the patron saint of envy and the grocer of despair.”

Cohen’s last LP, October’s  “You Want It Darker,” reflected a deep awareness of his mortality.

It had been reported that Cohen had been ill for some time, and he knew his October album, “You want It Darker” would be his last.  In that title song, he repeats the line, “I’m ready my Lord,” know he has reached an emotional end to his life as well as whatever physical ailments were curtailing him. 

There were so many Catholic allusions and imagery in Cohen’s songs, I had thought he might have been a convert.  He grew up as an Orthodox Jew and lived out his life as a sort of unorthodox Jew, though observant of the Sabbath laws.  He was also heavily involved with Buddhism, and actually was ordained a Buddhist monk.  It’s hard to say how devout he was though since he never married and had two children out of wedlock.  Still religion factors into many of his songs, and he held a high regard for Jesus.  From the Wikipedia entry:

Cohen showed an interest in Jesus as a universal figure, saying, "I'm very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says 'Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek' has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness...A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I'm not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.”

I’ve never read any of Cohen’s poetry, and certainly not his novels.  But given how highly artful his music is, I would imagine so would be his literary endeavors. 

The first verses that inspired him were Bible passages and the liturgy at the synagogue he attended with his parents and his sister, Esther. He wrote poems as a youngster, and in his teens he pursued his fondness for country music by forming a group called the Buckskin Boys.

The written word prevailed, and Cohen attended Montreal’s McGill University as an English major. After graduating in 1955, he joined the city’s thriving literary scene and published his first volume of poetry, “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” in 1956.

A second collection, “The Spice Box of Earth,” earned acclaim when it appeared in 1961, and was followed by the autobiographical novel “The Favourite Game” in 1963.

In 1960, Cohen bought a house on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote his second novel, “Beautiful Losers,” a sexual and spiritual phantasmagoria that brought him to wider critical and public attention, with comparisons to James Joyce and Henry Miller.

Despite the growing prestige, Cohen found it hard to make a living, so he started writing songs. He intended to move to Nashville, but when he stopped in New York he was seduced by the city’s folk music scene.

So let’s sample some of Cohen’s music.  I particularly like this early song about the Sisters of Mercy nuns.

In the 1970s and 80s, Cohen broke out of his folk song period to a more sophisticated arranged songs.  His most well-known song remains “Hallelujah.”  Here you see the combination of sophisticated lyrics around a complex melody.

His mid-career music became more cabaret style, and his voice became gravelly and deeper.  I just love “Everybody Knows.”

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Is there a song more undercutting with cynicism?

One of my all-time favorites is “Anthem.”

I think the entire lyrics should be posted on this one.  It’s so moving.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me

(Ring, ring, ring, ring)
Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee

(Ring, ring, ring, ring)
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in

“There is a crack in everything./That’s how the light gets in.”  What is the light symbolic for?  God?  Truth?  It gets into everything.

Finally another of my favorites is “Dance Me To The End Of  Love.”  Though on the surface this is a love song, but strangely it is about the Holocaust.  

One last clip (I can’t resist) should come from his last album.  I really love his “Traveling Light.”

Finally, if you are still so interested, here is the last interview Cohen gave before his death.  It also includes a lot of biographical background.  It’s lengthy but fascinating. 

Eternal rest onto him.  He was such a good soul.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Part 5

You can read Part 1 of this series, here
You can read Part 2, here
You can read Part 3, here.

In an historical novel, there is a built potential for dramatic irony in that we the reader know how the history will turn out.  The beginning of chapter three, Rodrigues writes back home expressing how critical he thinks he is.

In this country June marks the beginning of the rainy season. I have been told that the rain falls continuously for more than a month. With the coming of the rain the officials will probably relax their vigilance, so I intend to make use of this opportunity to travel around the neighbourhood and search out the remaining Christians. I want to let them know as quickly as possible that they are not utterly abandoned and alone.

Never have I felt so deeply how meaningful is the life of a priest. These Japanese Christians are like a ship lost in a storm without a chart. I see them without a single priest or brother to encourage and console, gradually losing hope and wandering bewildered in the darkness.

Well, we know that for 250 years the indigenous Christians of Japan were abandoned and alone as per that last sentence in the first paragraph.  And we also know that despite being abandoned and alone they did not lose hope and wander bewildered.  When Christians came back to Japan it was remarkable how they found the rudiments of Christianity still relatively pristine.  This is a point that must be strongly emphasized to understand the novel: despite incredible persecution and separation from mother church the Christian faith had taken root and survived 250 years until the harsh conditions had eased.  The historicity shapes the novel.

The third chapter shows why Christianity survived all those years by dramatizing the peasant’s love for Christianity.  Once they learn there are real priests in their village, the peasants overwhelm them for their sacramental needs.  Here’s a description of the faith Rodrigues finds among the peasants.

But now let me give you some more detailed information about these people of the village of Tomogi. They are poor farmers who eke out a living by cultivating potatoes and wheat in little fields. They have no ricefields. When you see how the land is cultivated right up into the middle of the mountain facing the sea, you are struck not so much by their indefatigable industry as by the cruelty of the life they have inherited. Yet the magistrate of Nagasaki exacts from them an exceedingly harsh revenue. I tell you the truth-for a long, long time these farmers have worked like horses and cattle; and like horses and cattle they have died. The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. For the first time they have met men who treated them like human beings. It was the human kindness and charity of the fathers that touched their hearts.

I have not yet met all the people of Tomogi. This is because from fear of the officials only two villagers can climb up to our little hut each night. Truth to tell in spite of myself! cannot help laughing when I hear the mumbling Portuguese and Latin words in the mouths of these ignorant peasants: 'Deus', 'Angelus', 'Beato' and so on. The sacrament of confession they call 'konshan'; heaven they call 'parais'; hell is 'inferno'. Not only are their names difficult to remember, but their faces all look the same-which c::mses not a little embarrassment. We confuse Ichizo with Seisukc, and we get Omatsu mixed up with another woman called Saki.

I have already told you something about Mokichi, so I would like now to say a few words about a couple of the other Christians. Ichizo is a man of about fifty who comes at night to our hut-and he always wears on his face an expression which makes you think he is angry. While attending Mass, and after it is over, he says not a word. In fact, however, he is not angry at all; this is just his natural expression. He is extraordinarily curious, and he scrutinizes carefully every movement and gesture of Garrpe and myself with his narrow, wrinkled eyes.

Omatsu, I'm told, is Ichizo's elder sister. Long ago she lost her husband and is now a widow. Twice she has come right up to our place with her niece, Sen, carrying on her back a basket with food for us. Like Ichizo, she too is extremely inquisitive and, together with her niece, scrutinizes Garrpe and me as we eat our meal. And what a meal! You couldn't imagine how wretched it is-a few fried potatoes and water. And while Garrpe and I gulp it down, the two women look on, laughing with evident satisfaction.

This chapter is actually lyrical in its dramatizing of love and faith.  The peasants harbor the Jesuits in a hut up a mountain.  They feed them, they nurture them, they love them, all at great risk to their lives.  This particular passage may be the loveliest in the entire novel:

The next event took place five days after the one I have recorded. It was late at night and we were secretly baptizing a baby that had been brought along by Omatsu and two men belonging to the Tossama. It was our first baptism since coming to Japan, and of course we had no candles nor music in our little hut—the only instrument for the ceremony was a broken little peasants' cup which we used for holy water. But it was more touching than
the liturgy of any cathedral to see that poor little hut with the baby crying and Omatsu soothing it while one of the men stood on guard outside. I thrilled with joy as I listened to the solemn voice of Garrpe as he recited the baptismal prayers. This is a happiness that only a missionary priest in a foreign land can relish. As the water flowed over its forehead the baby wrinkled its face and yelled aloud.  Its head was tiny; its eyes were narrow; this was already a peasant face that would in time come to resemble that of Mokichi and Ichizo. This child also would grow up like its parents and grandparents to eke out a miserable existence face to face with the black sea in this cramped and desolate land; it, too, would live like a beast, and like a beast it would die. But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt—this is the realization that came home to me acutely at that time.

The peasant child baptized projects to the peasants 250 years of endurance.  There is such joy there.  Christ is there for the child and for the peasants.  And men from other villages have heard about the priests and have come to urge them to meet their villagers.

From these men we heard astonishing news. In the district known as Odomari, the villagers had succeeded in escaping the vigilance of the officials, and they were still Christians to a man. And not only Odomari. The neighbouring district and villages of Miyahara, Dozaki and Egami, although to outward appearances they were Buddhist, were in fact Christian—a fact which was barely kept hidden. For a long, long time they had been awaiting the day when we priests would once again come across the distant sea to help them and give them a blessing.

'Father, we have not been to Mass. We have not confessed our sins. We have only said our prayers.' It was the man with the blood-stained feet who spoke.

'Come quickly to our village. Father, we teach our little children their prayers. They are waiting for the day you will come.' The fellow with the yellow teeth, opening a mouth that yawned like an enormous cave, nodded approval. The fish oil burned and crackled. Garrpe and I could not refuse such a plea. We had been too cowardly until now. It was embarrassing to think of our weakness in comparison with the courage of these Japanese peasants who had slept in the mountains and lacerated their feet in order to come to us.

The “astonishing news” that the village was “still Christian to a man” escaping the government’s persecution again projects to the 250 years of secret endurance.  The deep desire for Mass, for confession, for the sacraments is true faith.  They say their prayers and teach their children the prayers, and so it will go on for generations.  No other chapter will be so beautiful.  The story line will turn after this, but the faith will go on.

There is something that Susan Margret pointed out of chapter three, and that is the recurring imagery of the human face.  Here’s the exchange:

Susan Margret:

I have never been very good at figuring out symbolism in reading literature. Chapters three and four seem to be loaded with it. There are many references about faces and the face of Christ. Here are a few:

“The long years of secrecy have made the faces of these Christians like masks.” (Page 33)

“As for me, perhaps I am so fascinated by his face because the Scriptures make no mention of it.” (Page 44)

“This was the face of a crucified man, a face which for so many centuries had given inspiration to artists.” (Page 71)

“That face with its fearful eyes like a spider.” (The face of Kichijiro. Page 83)

I am wondering what Endo is trying to tell us about the face of Christ? Is he showing us the face of compassion, the face of suffering, or something else? In these two chapters there were also several comments about the silence of God.


Susan, that is so on top of it! I did not pick up on the constant reference to faces, and that connects to the reference of Christ's face in Piero della Francesca's painting. I'll have to go back and look but my gut reaction is that the peasant's faces represent Christ's face. And that through their faces God is speaking. Yes, because the silence of God is supposed to be ironic. He is speaking throughout. It's just that Rodrigues doesn't get it.

And while chapter four is not as lyrical as chapter three, it is extremely rich and dense.  Chapter four is the chapter of betrayal, of peasant crucifixion, of scatter and flight, and finally of capture.  It’s the last chapter we get Rodrigues’ first person narration.  There are three themes I want to explore that are prominent in the fourth chapter: Silence, Existentialism, and the Judas-like betrayal.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: Litany for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

This past Wednesday, November 2nd, was All Souls Day, a day of commemoration for our departed.  Katrina Fernandez at her Catholic Advice page on the Catholic website, Aleteia,  was asked about what to do to stay connected with the departed in our lives.  She provides a number of ideas, which I’ll let you go over to read, but I also added two in a comment box:

Here are two more things you can do Katrina.  (1) Save those funeral cards they hand out at a person's wake.  Keep them in a rubber band and every so often go through them with a little prayer.  (2) Keep a list of your dead.  My memory being what it is, I forget those who are not immediate family members.  I think praying for the dead is one of our biggest obligations as Catholics.

I thought I’d pass that along.  Now once you take out that cluster of funeral cards or open to your list, here’s a litany I just came across to use as a prayer.  As it turns out there are a number of Litanies for those in Purgatory, and you can do a search and they’ll come up.  But I really like this one, and so I’ll share it.


O Jesus, Thou suffered and died that all mankind might be saved and brought to eternal happiness.  Hear our pleas for further mercy on the souls of:

My dear parents and grandparents, my Jesus mercy!
My brothers and sisters and other near relatives, my Jesus mercy!
My godparents and sponsors of confirmation, my Jesus mercy!
My spiritual and temporal benefactors, my Jesus mercy!
My friends and neighbors, my Jesus mercy!
All for whom love or duty bids me pray, my Jesus mercy!

Those who have offended me, my Jesus mercy!
Those who have suffered disadvantage or harm through me, my Jesus mercy!

Those who are especially beloved by Thee, my Jesus mercy!
Those whose release is near at hand, my Jesus mercy!
Those who desire most to be united to Thee, my Jesus mercy!

Those who endure the greatest sufferings, my Jesus mercy!
Those whose release is most remote, my Jesus mercy!
Those who are least remembered, my Jesus mercy!

Those who are most deserving on account of their services to the Church, my Jesus mercy!
The rich, who now are the most destitute, my Jesus mercy!
The mighty, who now are powerless, my Jesus mercy!
The once spiritually blind, who now see their folly, my Jesus mercy!
The frivolous, who spent their time in idleness, my Jesus mercy!
The poor, who did not seek the treasures of heaven, my Jesus mercy!
The tepid, who devoted little time to prayer, my Jesus mercy!
The indolent, who neglected to perform good works, my Jesus mercy!
Those of little faith, who neglected the frequent reception of the Sacraments, my Jesus mercy!
The habitual sinners, who owe their salvation to a miracle of grace, my Jesus mercy!
Parents who failed to watch over their children, my Jesus mercy!
Superiors who were not solicitous for the salvation of those entrusted to them, my Jesus mercy!
Those who strove for worldly riches and pleasures, my Jesus mercy!
The worldly-minded, who failed to use their wealth and talents in the service of God, my Jesus mercy!
Those who witnessed the death of others, but would not think of their own, my Jesus mercy!
Those who did not provide for the life hereafter, my Jesus mercy!
Those whose sentence is severe because of the great things entrusted to them, my Jesus mercy!

The popes, kings and rulers, my Jesus mercy!
The bishops and their counselors, my Jesus mercy!
My teachers and spiritual advisors, my Jesus mercy!
The deceased priests of this diocese, my Jesus mercy!
The priests and religious of the Catholic Church, my Jesus mercy!

The defenders of the holy faith, my Jesus mercy!
Those who died on the battlefield, my Jesus mercy!
Those who fought for their country, my Jesus mercy!
Those who were buried in the sea, my Jesus mercy!
Those who died of apoplexy, my Jesus mercy!
Those who died of heart attacks, my Jesus mercy!
Those who suffered and died of cancer, my Jesus mercy!
Those who died suddenly in accidents, my Jesus mercy!
Those who died without the last rites of the Church, my Jesus mercy!
Those who shall die within the next twenty-four hours, my Jesus mercy!
My own poor soul when I shall have to appear before Thy judgment seat, my Jesus mercy!

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them: For evermore with Thy saints, because Thou art gracious.

May the prayer of Thy suppliant people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, benefit the souls of Thy departed servants and handmaids: that Thou mayest both deliver them from all their sins, and make them to be partakers of Thy redemption. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.