How the Light Gets In

My “summer” ended with my reading the long-awaited publication of the Louise Penny mystery, How the Light Gets In.  With great skill the author claims the chorus from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” as the metaphor for the way that humans keep working for good, despite our fragility and brokenness:

                         Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. 

In the book, the light of justice prevails in cliff-hanging acts of bravery, when the chief characters, Chief Armand Gamache and his disgraced former lieutenant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, move boldly to overturn a corrupt system, despite their frailty and past failure.  In these days of prayer and concern about what the United States will do in response to the corruption and cruelty in Syria, I am aware of how many cracks there are in everything, and am compelled to pray for courage and clarity in leaders all over the world to ring the bells that still can ring, however imperfect the offering, so that Light will get in.

The macrocosm of brokenness has been mirrored in the micro-worlds I inhabit all summer long: my girl-friends have become widows, some of them have themselves gone home to God; my sturdy companions have become frail; promising projects have petered out. And I have had to navigate a diminishing of body, which although it is not life-threatening and permanent, has brought me up short in my carefree assumptions about what is possible and necessary for me to contribute to the world.  When things “go south,” as the vernacular puts it, especially when sadness and pain are prolonged, I can easily lose heart. But Leonard Cohen challenges me to keep ringing the bell, imperfect though it be, by showing up, reaching out, praying without ceasing, supporting the frail and poor.  My energy to visit a grieving friend may be limited, but I need to show up. My phone calls to those suffering may remain un-returned. My contribution to funds for justice and mercy may seem paltry. I may even fall asleep as I pray for peace! But I am called to keep making the offering, of praise, thanksgiving, money and hope that God’s way of justice and wholeness world will prevail. Cohen croons:

The wars they will be fought again/The holy dove be caught again/ bought and sold/and sold again; the dove is never free. Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

And so the Fall season begins for me with the awareness of the cracks that abound. It is not my strength that will make a difference, but my continuing willingness to be faithful to the people and places to which I am called. The apostle Paul cheers us on in  2 Corinthians 4 by reminding us not to lose heart because God’s mercy is the strength for the day. And he also reminds us that we are “clay jars,” fragile, finite, with imperfections, but the joy and glory is that from us God’s extraordinary power can shine. It’s about taking and giving who we are in the service of the Light, no matter how much faith we have in the success of the outcome. In this season I have grandchildren launching into new grades of school, from kindergarten to high school; what bells shall I ring for them? I have friends who continue to walk through the valley of the shadow; what imperfect offering can I bear to them? What cracks in me–body, mind. spirit– will allow the Light to get in and then shine out again. I am willing to let it shine, and pray that God’s power will make the difference.

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who pens beautiful reflections on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • Olivia

    Love your musings. A small respite in a busy day. Thank you! Olivia

  • Thom Butler

    You are always one of those great, welcome cracks in my life. Thanks, as always.


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