The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
— Leonard Cohen
I encountered this poem yesterday, at our Fresh Start meeting up at Grace Cathedral (Fresh Start is a program to help support clergy who are transitioning into new positions). It struck me as a rather poignant observation about the human condition in our time and place. It seems to me that many people have lost touch with their souls amid the blizzard of modern life. To lose touch with the soul is to lose touch with our deepest truth and our deepest self, to lose touch with a sense of meaning and transcendence. It seems to me that one of the missions of the church in the world today is to help people recover a connection with the soul, and thus recover a connection with the depth and mystery of life.
Leonard Cohen’s poem is quoted in a book by Dr. Parker Palmer entitled “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward the Undivided Life”. I thought I would share with you what Dr. Palmer has to say about it:
There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.
Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.
The lost ones come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.
So it is easy to believe the poet’s claim that “the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul,” easy to believe that the soul–that life-giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness–has lost all power to guide our lives.
But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.
The people facilitating our meeting yesterday, after we had read Leonard Cohen’s poem and Parker Palmer’s commentary on it, asked us two questions that are worth sharing, I think:
What is the blizzard for you?
And what is the rope that will get you back home?