MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Bible

Leonard Cohen: A Final Interview

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leonard-cohen
A few days ago, Leonard Cohen, one of the finest poets and songwriters of our times, passed away at the age of 82. But just before he died, about a month ago, David Remnick of The New Yorker interviewed him.

I was shocked and saddened by the news of his death. I didn’t know that he was very sick, because he wanted to keep his illness private, until today when I listened to David Remnick’s interview.

At one point in the interview he said:

I’m ready to die. I just hope that it’s not uncomfortable.

Poignant though the interview was, it was always accompanied by Cohen’s self-deprecating humor.

Cohen always found comfort in his religion; he was a practicing Jew. Since he was a child, he always carried within himself a sense of God’s presence. And he felt that, every now and then, God spoke to him. At one point in the interview, Cohen said that God was still speaking to him. But he was no longer the harsh, judgmental and vindictive God of his youth.

Towards the end of his life he found a compassionate and merciful God.

Since the early 70s he also practiced Zen meditation. In the mid-90s he stayed in a Zen monastery. He only left the monastery 7 years ago when he found out that his manager defrauded him of his lifetime savings. Left with almost nothing for his retirement and his kids, he decided to work again. He published his first book of poems after 20 years. Then proceeded to tour, performing in sold-out concerts for the 4 next years.

At any rate, he suffered from debilitating pain due to his illness. Unable to take his pain killing medicines, his Zen practice came in handy. He was able to cope with his pain through meditation, enabling him to work on and finish his last album, You Want It Darker, which I consider his parting gift to each of us.

If you’re interested to listen to David Remnick’s interview please click this link:

Leonard Cohen: A Final Interview

–Matt

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Written by MattAndJojang

November 12, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Hallelujah

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I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
But it’s not a crime you’re here tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a lonely Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

But baby I’ve been here before
I know this room and I’ve walked this floor
You see, I used to live alone before I knew you
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a very lonely Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

–Leonard Cohen

Note: Leonard Cohen’s classic song Hallelujah, since it was released in 1984, has become one of the greatest songs of all-time. Various singers, like Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Bono, Willie Nelson and Celine Dion, have their own versions of the song. To date, there are already more than 300 versions of the song. This is what Bob Dylan has to say about the song:

it’s a beautifully constructed melody that steps up, evolves, and slips back, all in quick time. But this song has a connective chorus, which when it comes in has a power all of its own. The ‘secret chord’ and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect of the song has plenty of resonance for me.

Written by MattAndJojang

October 25, 2016 at 10:50 am

Scars Into Stars

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Kintsugi

 

He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples…

–Mark 6:41

There is a beautiful Japanese art called kintsugi. It is the art of fixing broken pottery with gold-imbued resin.

If you see a finished product, you will notice that no attempt was made to hide the crack. Rather, the crack became part of the design.

Twenty-six years ago, I gave up a soaring banking career to work full-time for the Lord.

Since then, my life has never been the same.

Sure, it is not a problem-free life. The road is paved with thorns of persecution, trials, and suffering that have scarred me. But God, in His goodness, has imbued me with His golden grace that heals me and forms me into a new person.

Indeed, I have been blessed.

I have been broken.

It is my prayer that He will continue to use me and my life for His greater glory.

He has turned my scars into stars.

–Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

January 5, 2016 at 10:38 am

An Invitation to a Zen Retreat

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Zen Retreat Invitation

An invitation to attend a Zen retreat 16 years ago from Sr. Perla, an ICM nun. Attended the 6-day retreat, and it changed my life. An account of what happened to me during that retreat is found in this blog post:

A Touch of Enlightenment: A Christian’s Encounter with Zen

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

April 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

The Most Powerful Religion

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Money

Photo: chedder/Flickr

The love of money is the root of all evil. — I Timothy 6:10

If I look at the world today it seems to me that the most powerful religion of all– much more powerful than Christianity, Judaism, Islam and so on– is the people who worship money. That is really [the] most powerful religion. And the banks are bigger than the cathedrals, the headquarters of the multinational companies are bigger than the mosques or the synagogues. Every hour on the hour we have business news– every hour– it’s a sort of hymn to capitalism.

–Tony Benn

Written by MattAndJojang

November 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

East Coker on the Rebind

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Four Quartets

I love East Coker. I do. Last night I patched up my thirty-year-old copy of Eliot’s Four Quartets with clear packaging tape. When I was in college, one of my friends paid twenty dollars to rebind my twenty-five-dollar, leather-bound King James Bible for my birthday. But by last night no one had offered to rebind my $1.65 Harvest Book paperback edition of Four Quartets. Maybe I’m supposed to have internalized all the words I need by now.

The paper is thick, and the pages haven’t yellowed at all. The top edges of the pages have inexplicable, rusty freckles like the ones on my arms. I’m also “in the middle way.” In fact, I’m as old as Eliot was when he wrote East Coker.

Since when is fifty “the middle way,” by the way? Was Eliot flattering himself? My life divides neatly into smaller, decade-long lives, as if I were leading six different lives, and my fifties life makes me feel old, a lot like my thirties life did. My thirties were a little hard. I was out of shape and had lots of aches and pains. Some clock went off in my head at age thirty: I’m not married! What segments each of our lives?

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?

When I was forty, I discovered the fountain of youth. An identity crisis and a slow recovery made the world seem new. I started an exercise-and-diet regime and a new career. I rediscovered poetry. My forties fulfilled the promise of my twenties – all of that Bible study and those fifty-four hours of English courses. But old age seemed to return with vigor last year about the time I turned fifty. For the first time, I know in my bones that most of my life has passed.

But, as I say, my youth and old age seem to come and go.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

A lifetime burning in every moment. “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past,” says the Preacher.

I was twenty when I wrote the first marginalia in my Four Quartets. What gets across the naiveté: my balloon-like script or my borrowed thoughts? Today my handwriting looks more wrinkled – more nuanced, I think. In college I wrote “the neg. theology” beside these lines:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

I remember the professor mentioning negative theology, which was the first time I had ever heard of the idea. I remember thinking that it sounded rather holy and cool, kind of like the essence of what my Jesus buddies and I were after in pursuing our very positive theology.

Why did I like Four Quartets back then? I remember liking the somewhat stiff diction that circled around on itself. The “dust in the air suspended” and the roses and bowls reminded me of quiet rooms of now-dead relatives and their loud, slow-ticking clocks. There was something quieting and alarming about rooms like that, and you can’t experience them after middle age. You’re too busy remembering them, outfitting them.

Earlier in his career, Eliot used the inherent contradiction of his language (his diction and syntax are at once kind of stately and creaky) to saturate his voice with irony. But Eliot uses his contradictory language in East Coker to achieve something quieter than irony; he achieves a kind of wisdom-poem, and his language seems perfect for an examination of negative theology. All that dust in the rose bowl and all that shadow fruit, all those footfalls in the garden. It’s an elegant and “a worn-out poetical fashion” all at once. In his end is his beginning.

But little in East Coker would have made sense to me in the beginning except for some of the more aphoristic and outwardly Christian portions of it. My overall attraction to it was inexplicable. Perhaps my spirit had found a kind of blueprint.

My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

East Coker is built on an Ecclesiastes chassis, and, as with Ecclesiastes’s body, you can’t tell if it’s coming or going. Old age, darkness, wisdom, despair, writing, and life cycles of people and families and civilizations circle around one another. East Coker has Ecclesiastes’s “a time for”’s, and it has a loosened pane and a tattered arras for Ecclesiastes’s loosened silver cord and broken golden bowl. The sun also rises:

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence.

A lot of people think Ecclesiastes is depressing, and a lot of people think East Coker is depressing, too. But those people don’t understand apophatic theology, I say. The only thing that seems to depress Eliot in East Coker is his writing.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate . . .

The subject of preaching and writing is the toughest part of Ecclesiastes for me, too, because the moment preaching and writing point to negative theology (the “goads” and “nails” below, perhaps), they also create a chasm between positive and negative theology:

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Do you feel the chasm? After all he went through, the Preacher was stuck looking for acceptable words.

According to the negative theology, God is ineffable, so suddenly you have a problem if you want to explain him or the dance he set in motion around him. Here’s the other point in East Coker where Eliot seems to throw down his pen:

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.

These appearances make the poet a subject of his own poem. As Eliot moves from the irony of his early poetry to negative theology, he replaces the anti-heroes of his early poetry with his narrator – himself. Ecclesiastes is a personal book, a working through, a seeker’s journal, and East Coker is, too. Eliot’s ancestors emigrated to America from East Coker.  He chose the poem’s opening and closing lines for his epitaph on the commemorative plaque in the church where his ashes are buried — St. Michael’s Church in East Coker.

In East Coker, the only anti-hero – the only fool – is the narrator, since anyone who preaches (or writes about) the negative theology is a fool. Ask the apostle Paul, who in his second letter to the Corinthians deliberately preached it in a clown suit.

East Coker shares Ecclesiastes’s ambivalence toward old age and wisdom just as it does toward writing. In East Coker, old men have nothing positive to offer the young.

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom resides in the darkness of God, and the only thing old men have to offer is something negative: the loss of themselves, a kind of death before death.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

But works like Ecclesiastes and East Coker are meant for the young as well as the old. In fact, East Coker reconciles the young and old, the ends and beginnings, in darkness. Perhaps Ecclesiastes and East Coker lend a little mystery to life, or at least to old age. I remember thinking as I read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as a teenager, “Maybe the hoary head is a crown of glory, after all.” Young people feel a connection with a long, authentic life, or at least I felt such a connection back then. Even if I couldn’t decipher the old stone in my youth, I could at least carry it around with me.

Ecclesiastes ends rather perfunctorily: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” I can hear Thoreau rage against this ending, much as he declaims in Walden against the Westminster Catechism’s summary of man’s purpose: to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Suppose Shakespeare had taken Polonius’s famous aphorisms early in Hamlet and had put them in the prince’s mouth at the end. That’s the feeling I get from Ecclesiastes.

To be fair, Ecclesiastes’s end seems to focus on its younger readers – all of us, I guess, with beginner’s mind – since the fear of God and the keeping of his commandments may lead us, by God’s mercy, into the dark night the Preacher and John of the Cross and Eliot’s other mystic heroes believe in.  (And “Fear God, and keep his commandments”: if those ain’t “acceptable words,” I don’t know what are.)

But East Coker ends with a challenge to the old:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Eliot has given me a vision for my fifties, and maybe for my seventies if I go that long. (My sixties will take care of themselves, I reckon, like my twenties and forties.)

I carry my Harvest Book edition around now like I carried my pocket New Testament around as a teenager. In my beginning is my end.

— Peter Stephens

Written by MattAndJojang

March 21, 2014 at 10:21 am

Why I Love Lent

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Lent
I wasn’t raised in a household that observed Lent and only began to get into it once I was introduced to the more liturgical traditions while at seminary. My mother always thought it odd that I would observe this season believing that one of the finer things about being a protestant was not having to do dreary old Lent.

However, Lent has become my favorite season and Ash Wednesday my favorite Christian Holy day outside of Holy Week. Having someone look you in the eye with love and tell you that you are going to die is powerfully moving, and quite beautiful, especially, I suppose, if that day doesn’t seem too close.

“Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.” Said Wallace Stevens.

Being reminded that I am perishable, that I am dust and that I will return to dust serves to awaken me to the fact that I am on that beautiful journey between dust to dust that we call life. I, like those dry bones in Ezekiel, have had life-breath breathed into me. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent startle me enough to consider that this very day might be a good day to look up from my day to day concerns, as unimportant as they may be, and to zoom out the lens and to look at my life — where I have been, where I am going, and if all is well with my soul right here and now.

In Lent we observe the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness filled with trial and temptation. As it is with most of us, my personal sojourn often is located in the wilderness; winding within uncomfortable and uncertain terrain filled with temptations and trials and sense of alone-ness. At some point in my life, however, I came across the words of another sojourner found in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” the psalmist writes, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Over time, the testimony of God’s intimate presence and love found in this psalm has become my own, and, while it did not, and has not relieved me of my wilderness experiences it allows me to understand my struggles in a different way, to feel less alone and to redeem my life as a valid and, even valued, part of the wider sacred story of God.

Maybe that is why I love Lent. In this season it is permitted to reflect on the pain in our lives and to even acknowledge that there are times when God seems utterly absent. Christians spend their lives between the words of Jesus that ask God, why have you forsaken me, and the others that proclaim into your hands I commend my spirit. The testimony of Psalm 139 is that no matter where we go, or what we do, whether we sense God, or we don’t – God is. God is Present.

Lent offers us the opportunity to tear away all that would blind us, or numb us to that reality. For some that will come through fasting from mindless consumption of whatever distracts us; for others it will come from radical service to the neighbor; but what is most important about Lent is that we make time and space for an awareness that God who is with us and loves us – even right here and now. It is in the telling of our stories that God is revealed and Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection become real – all of our lives become – the bread and the cup – elements of eternal life amidst the dust.

— Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

Written by MattAndJojang

March 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm