Archive for October 23rd, 2006

Bruce Cockburn, mystic

October 23, 2006

He seldom mentions God but he is closer to the Divine flame than all those TV evangelists. He’s been this way for a good 20 years. For decades he refused to call himself a Christian because he did not want to be identified with religious reactionaries like Falwell and Pat Robertson who

Read the Bible in your special ways
You’re fond of quoting certain things it says
Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above
But when do we hear about forgiveness and love
God can’t be reduced to an ideology
such as the gospel of bondage (1988)

For many Cockburn is modern Christian mystic who picks up on the still, small voice, the God whispers of the natural world and the inevitable pull to the kingdom, the commitment to peace and justice. In Cry of the Tiny Babe (1991),Cockburn neatly unpacks the midrash of Matthew and Luke and understands God’s preferential option for the poor. This is the divine base which God works from not the wealthy “base” that GW Bush named in Michael Moore’s devastating portrait in Fahrenheit 9/11.

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you’ve got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift [that] you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes

For him the incarnation is

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

But the tiny babe grows up to be the crucified kigdom-peddler
whose call to God’s reign is briefly destroyed by the empire politics of the dominant consciousness with the result that

in the absence of a vision there are nightmares
And in the absence of compassion there is cancer
Whose banner waves over palaces and mean streets
(Night Train,1996)

Cockburn would be very much at home with God as the “incomprehensible Mystery” (Rahner). This concept is all pervasive in his music. The world for this extraordinary Canadian troubador is the world of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a world that “shines out like shook foil” . It is a World of Wonders(1985):

Here’s a rainbow shining in a bead of spittle
Falling diamonds in rattling rain
Light flexed on moving muscle
I stand here dazzled with my heart in flames at this…

World of wonders…

Moment of peace like brief arctic bloom
Red/gold ripple of the sun going down
Line of black hills makes my bed
Sky full of love pulled over my head

World of wonders…

In this vale of tears,broken as it is (as well as graced) we often have to go the way of the via negativa, into the darkness:

Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into night
Another step deeper into darkness
Closer to the light
(Closer to the Light, 1994)

Cocburn acknowledges the “sin situation” of the human condition yet he never seems to fall into despair because the Holy is never far from us, summoning us to a deeper immersion in life.

Humans must respond to this Divine initiative by looking after creation and each other. He is so adamant about this conviction that he closed his concert in Guelph (and included it at Massey Hall (Oct.20) with Mystery(2006):

You can’t tell me there is no mystery
You can’t tell me there is no mystery
It’s everywhere I turn

Moon over junk yard where the snow lies bright
Snow lies bright
Snow lies bright
Moon over junk yard where the snow lies bright
Can set my heart to burn

Infinity always gives me vertigo
Infinity always gives me vertigo
And fills me up with grace

This feast of beauty can intoxicate
This feast of beauty can intoxicate
Just like the finest wine

Cockburn is no hopeless romantic full of cheery optimism.He understands the fallen state of the world and the fact that he was “ built on a Friday and you can’t fix me”, nevertheless he’s done OK.Even in his brokenness he calls on all fellow “stumblers” to incarnate love in the world.

So all you stumblers who believe love rules
Believe love rules
Believe love rules
Come all you stumblers who believe love rules
Stand up and let it shine
Stand up and let it shine