FOREWORD: In light of the Lenten season, I wrote this post about embracing freedom and personal strength through brokenness.
Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian poet and singer who died on November 7, 2016 once wrote a set of powerful lyrics in his song “Anthem,” off the 1992 album The Future:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Cohen, who didn’t like explaining his music, reportedly made a rare statement about “Anthem” on The Future Radio Special, a special CD released by Sony in 1992. (Quartz hasn’t been able to independently verify the transcript, which was published on a fan site.)
The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.
This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.
And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.
(Source: Quartz Media LLC)
There Is A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In
Now there are people who resist the insights born of brokenness. One of the ways we most oppress ourselves is by assuming that we, alone, are shattered while everyone else is whole. We tell ourselves, “Look at that family, how perfect they are. Look at their home, how gorgeous and clean it always is”, and we assume that we are the only fractured and broken vessels struggling to make meaning of our fragmented lives. Not only do individuals try to mandate a false wholeness, but there are social forces that seek to impose that same impossible perfection on us, telling us that if we are broken, we no longer retain any utility or worth.
There are entire industries in this era — blogs, magazines, and films — dedicated to the self-hating proposition that we should feel fat, old, and ugly, that we should do surgery on ourselves, or straighten something, or bend some part, or snip something, or be lighter, or darker, and then, then we’ll finally have dignity; then we’ll be whole.
Where then does that leave us?
Let us take for example the iconic and symbolic Liberty Bell. It was hung in the Philadelphia State House in 1753, and it sounded to summon the pre-Independence Colonial Legislature into session, and it was used after the Revolution for the Pennsylvania State Legislature as well.
The intriguing idiosyncrasy of this bell is that when it arrived, it cracked right away. Not once, but twice, American craftspeople repaired the bell by filling in the crack with new metal. And yet it cracked again, and then it cracked again. Apparently the bell wanted to be broken; it had something to say. In the 1830s the abolitionist movement was gaining steam; Americans were awakening to the realization that slavery was economically harmful and morally repugnant.
Some bold Americans started to organize against slavery as an ethical and political imperative. The abolitionists were the very first to label this bell the Liberty Bell, and they elevated it as a symbol of American independence and personal freedom.
In 1846 the Liberty Bell cracked for the final time, and at that point people stopped trying to fill the gap or to ring it.
Now, taking such into considerations, to me, the Liberty Bell — now cracked and silent — resonates more loudly around the globe than any bell that is whole. Inscribed on that beautiful, broken Liberty Bell is a verse from the Book of Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.” Not to those who are tall, to those who are thin, to those who are young, to those are gorgeous — proclaim liberty to everyone.
Liberty belongs to us all, broken, shattered, struggling and striving. And beautiful because of our imperfections.
The medieval author, Menachem Azariah of Fano writes, “Just as a seed cannot grow to perfection as long as it maintains its original form — growth coming only through decomposition — so these points could not become perfect configurations as long as they maintained their original form, but only by breaking.” There is a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in.
This life is not for the perfect. It is not for the flawless. It is not for the whole. If you are like me, there are parts of you that are very good, and there are parts of you that are aching. There are parts of you that strive and fall short; there are parts of you that feel broken. Those are the parts that let in the light. Don’t run from your imperfections. Don’t hide from your brokenness. Broken bones re-grow stronger at the very location where they are broken. Those are the spots where the light will shine through.