Last summer as we hiked up the Lion’s Binker Trail to the base of the Lions my hiking companion and I came across a huge bolder that had been split in two thousands of years ago. The stone was weathered, the rock face smoothed away by the wind and the rains that forever nurse these mountains to life. Between the two sections of the stone there was a space of slightly less than a foot that gradually widened and in that space were several horizontal cracks that served as footholds allowing us to climb through the broken stone and access the trail that led to the mountaintop. My companion called the broken stone the ‘Door to Heaven’. I didn’t think too much about the name at the time, but a few days ago I was listening to Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’. The refrain of that song is “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Listening to Cohen’s song reminded me of the encounter with the broken stone on the mountain path and I found myself pondering the significance of brokenness.
Admittedly Leonard Cohen’s singing is at best an acquired taste but I do think that he gives voice to a core insight into the human condition of brokenness. Through his poetry and song Cohen, a secular Jew influenced by Buddhism, makes it culturally acceptable to give a nod to brokenness as a fault line that runs through the world and though human persons. According to the renowned philosopher Paul Ricoeur this fault line makes us fallible and our fallible nature is what makes us human. The Christian worldview takes this notion of fallibility even further seeing a deliberate choice of self-centerness as widening the brokenness in the world. Such a choice amounts to sin, which can hold both a personal dimension, residing in the individual person, and a social and collective dimension, residing in the systems we create and support. Regardless of how one looks at things it is apparent that there is a brokenness that runs through everything.
Yet, this brokenness is not all there is. In fact, as Cohen sings the crack is how the light gets in. Without the brokenness, the fault line, the sin that runs through everything, we would not have the light of meaning that illuminates the world. Very often this light of meaning is reflected through people and the systems we abide in or create. Somehow brokenness is part of the reflection, perhaps giving the light various shades of colour.
These ways of looking at life, the lens of the poet and singer Leonard Cohen; the lens of the philosopher Paul Ricoeur; and the lens of Christian anthropology help me to walk in the world. They help me to see the brokenness that exists in our world in others and in our systems. They help me to understand the fault lines that are showing up more visibly in the political, economic, and environmental dimensions of our global village. More importantly they help me to accept the brokenness that lives in me and how I participate, either by commission or omission, in the widening of the fault lines. Accepting my brokenness helps me to move forward, to climb a little further on the trail of life, to reach for the places where the light comes in and to descend the path on the journey home.