I had an early start this morning as I had to be in Bristol by 9.30am to preach at the Valedictory Service for students leaving Trinity College ahead of their ordinations in the next few weeks. I think the job of the preacher at such a service is to encourage and to warn. Whether or not I hit the mark is not for me to judge, but I enjoyed the experience – and good to be back 22 years after I left the same college.

After the service and a good lunch I went to visit a friend and we sat talking for a couple of hours before I had to hit the road back to London again. Feeling tired, I had to choose between Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen to keep me alert. Cockburn won.

I kept replaying Pacing the Cage – a wonderful song with wonderful poetry and wonderful guitar playing.

The thing about Cockburn is the beautiful and raw honesty. He moves from describing the sunset to describing the experience of being worn out by an itinerant performing life:

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you live too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

I’ve proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip’s worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And every one was taken in…

I wonder if it is only artists and performers who feel this. The danger of a ministry like mine (as a bishop) is that every day brings a different group of people (audience?) and it is possible to lose your self by becoming public property. This isn’t a complaint; rather, just a musing on the expression Cockburn brings to what might be a common experience for people who appear before ‘new’ audiences all the time. But the most poignant bit comes next:

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend.

This morning we sang a popular worship song: ‘Strength will rise when we wait upon the Lord…’ I suggested that clergy will find as the years go by that ‘waiting on the Lord’ does not guarantee feelings of renewal or strength – that sometimes we are led into dark places and shouldn’t try to run from them. Cockburn reminded me that life is more complicated than we sometimes suggest and that the retreat into solitude/darkness can be welcome when you feel wrung out by people.

This is the song that runs around my mind when I get tired and long for space. But, like Cockburn, it doesn’t stop the next appointment coming…