I am heading towards study leave starting in a few days time. First time ever and I can’t wait to get my head and heart refreshed in some space. So, on my way into meetings in London today I picked up the book of Leonard Cohen poetry I started ages ago – Book of Longing (Penguin, 2007) – and thought I’d dip into it. I think my attention span is reducing by the day at the moment.

Then I came across his poem Thing. It starts like this:

I am this thing that needs to sing / I love to sing…

It concludes as follows:

I am this thing

that wants to sing

when I am up against the spit

and scorn of judges

O G-D I want to sing

I am


What is it about human beings that makes us want to sing? I remember Jim Wallis saying that when he and his colleagues were arrested in Washington DC they used to annoy the police officers who jailed them by singing all night. he said that you just can’t stop Christians singing. He is right (and not just about Christians).


One of the fallacies I grew up with in church was that God wanted to hear our praises at all times – even when everything is rubbish, we must praise God. When I grew up two things bugged me:


(a) I began to wonder what sort of God it was who urges his friends to lie through their teeth about what is going on in their lives and in their head. So, the worship leader would urge us to ‘leave the business of the day/week at the door of the church and bring our worship unencumbered by all the worries and troubles of life’… and I would think that was stupid.


(b) I read the Psalms and found expressions of regret, complaint, lament, shouting at God, questioning, whingeing, praising, asking, and just about everything else that goes into real life in the real world with real people in real relationships. Psalm 137 (‘By the rivers of Babylon’) wasn’t exactly a load of laughs.


Again, it is the poets and artists who put their finger on the truth. Human beings are made to be honest with God and each other – singing different songs at different times of life and not worrying about whether God can cope with our complicated emotions.


Tonight I feel like repeating Cohen’s lines. I’m just not entirely sure which song I want to sing.