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Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and… Songwriting?

Posted in: Interviews,Lyrics,Practices by Michael Iafrate on February 24, 2013

For the last couple of years, I have wanted to do some reflection on the practice of songwriting and its connection to the traditional Lenten challenge to grow in one’s “prayer life.” In the course of reflecting on songwriting and/as spiritual practice, it struck me that while there is quite a bit of reflection on rock performance and the analysis of finished songs in discussions of popular music and theology, there seems to be a lack of attention on the practice of songwriting, particularly as it takes place in an “individual” or “personal” mode.

One recent exception is the work of John McClure who has reflected on “song-making” as a source of insight for theological practice. Some of this work touches on what is happening in the songwriter when she is writing a song. McClure writes,

[S]ongwriters are keenly aware that their craft is cathartic, educative, and integrative in relation to their own lives. Writing in and out of a tradition carries with it certain ways of externalizing and dealing with one’s experiences and ideas. Songwriting, therefore, involves a constant reeducation and maturation of the whole person within certain traditions of thought and practice. Writing changes the artist, providing healing, perspective, vision, and qualities of good judgment. Most good songwriters are aware that songs are doing this to them, and how songs are doing it. (John S. McClure, Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011], 21)


“Forget your perfect offering”

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on October 13, 2012

I have never known much about the singer Leonard Cohen, nor appreciated his oeuvre. (Natalie Weaver has written several times about Cohen at R&T, most recently here; and Maeve Heaney also wrote about his music for R&T not long ago here.)

But I did hear a good paper about the theological significance of his work in 2008 at the annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, in a paper presented by Dr. Thomas Ryan and published here in the National Catholic Reporter.

But today, reading A. M. Homes’ assessment, in the NY Times Book Review, of Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (HarperCollins, 2012), I am thinking about this song by Cohen called “Anthem.”

And I am thinking of basic principles, namely: that some songs do not need theological elaboration because they are spiritually sufficient to themselves. Neither do some theologies need musicalizing because they are already resonant of their own accord.

This is what I think of when I heard Cohen sing, in “Anthem,” “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

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As one YouTube commenter memorably puts it: “Cohen lays us prostrate to our fates, and the celebration of what’s left.”

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

In Praise of Mourning

Posted in: General by Maeve Heaney on September 10, 2012

Every now and again I get ‘trapped’ by a song, put the ipod on repeat and bathe in it. Drawn to listen afresh to Leonard Cohen’s music by an invitation to an upcoming concert, this week has been drenched in the drone and harmonies of the poet and song writer singing Alexandra Leaving”.

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Suddenly the night has grown colder.

Some deity preparing to depart.

Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,

they slip between the sentries of your heart.


Upheld by the simplicities of pleasure,

they gain the light, they formlessly entwine;

and radiant beyond your widest measure

they fall among the voices and the wine.


lt’s not a trick, your senses all deceiving,

a fitful dream the morning will exhaust—

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving,

Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.



Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on May 9, 2010

Check out Thomas Casey’s essay in the new issue of America magazine (found here) on Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah.”


Mary McDonough