He’s her fan: Leonard Cohen and St. Kateri

A Leonard Cohen fan blog revealed this week that the legendary singer-songwriter’s home has images of St. Kateri Tekakwitha practically everywhere you look.

Cohen has been fascinated with Tekakwitha at least since 1966, when her story provided the backbone for his novel Beautiful Losers.

Unfortunately the novel is filled with obscenity and the kind of cheap slurs against the Church that were (and are) de rigeur among hipsters; moreover, it is so James Joycean as to be almost unreadable. Writing to a fan in 2000, Cohen—noting that he wrote Beautiful Losers while sitting outside during a hot summer—aptly called it “more of a sunstroke than a book.”

Yet, despite its flaws (and they are innumerable), Beautiful Losers contains one very lovely passage, and it is about saints:

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

Twenty years later, Cohen co-wrote with Jennifer Warnes a beautiful song about one of those “monsters of love”: St. Bernadette.

Another Cohen song, “Anthem” offers a theology of wounds that inspired me when writing My Peace I Give You. Cohen observes, “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Although the rest of the song displays the songwriter’s usual ambivalence toward Christian faith, I found in that single lyric a truth that resonates with the Gospel message: our wounds are cracks where Christ’s light can get in.

Found the Cohen fan site via Luke Coppen.



  • Karen in SC

    “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”…reminds me of a line in the song “All I got” by a favorite band of mine, The Honeycutters: ‘It’s the worn out places where the light shines through”. I think that version resonates with me even more; I’ve been blessed to get by in life without too many cracks, but oftentimes I feel worn thin in places.

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  • D. Ellis

    I also like the way I misquoted this song once: “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the rain gets in. “

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  • BYU

    Leonard Cohen is practicing Jew and an ordained Zen Buddhist monk. Faith/spirituality have always been at the center of his work. Beautiful Losers was first published in 1966. In 1967, Cohen wrote his first song, “Suzanne,” which contained a verse about Jesus. In 1971 he wrote the song “Joan of Arc.” In 1984, he wrote “If It Be Your Will”:
    If it be your will
    That I speak no more
    And my voice be still
    As it was before
    I will speak no more
    I shall abide until
    I am spoken for
    If it be your will…
    This was the same year he wrote “Hallelujah.” In 2012 “Show Me the Place” was released, a song from his album Old Ideas. It contains the verse:
    Show me the place
    Help me roll away the stone
    Show me the place
    I can’t move this thing alone
    Show me the place
    Where the Word became a man
    Show me the place
    Where the suffering began
    “Ambivalence” is the last word I would use when describing Cohen’s relationship with Christianity, Judaism, spirituality or faith.

  • Chava Buse

    I just watched you on The Journey Home. I think we are soul mates of a sort. I became a Catholic last year at Christ the King, along with my husband. I also came from a very abusive childhood. I will be a watcher of your blog (I’m in Texas now for thirty years, but spent the first thirty years of my life in Brooklyn, NY where I was born). I’ve been an elementary school teacher for the past 25 years and help the kids that ‘others can’t’ and I truly believe it is due to what I’ve overcome. I’ve had many self destructive relationships, etc. but Jesus and Mary are helping me heal every day. I met my husband Wayne (a former Baptist) here in Houston. We were both Messianic Jews at the time. Anyway feel free to write me, I’m looking forward to buying and reading your books. Keep up the good work. Shalom , Chava