I went to see Bruce Cockburn last night, live at the McPherson Theatre in Victoria. It would not be an understatement to suggest that it was one of the better concerts I have been to… but then I probably say that after every good concert I attend. I also had a fantastic seat: front row directly infront of Bruce. This photo was shot on my phone from my lap.
Not only is Bruce a phenomenal musician and guitar player, there is something about his ability to craft lyrics that is always profound and thought-provoking. It was an incredible experience to be able to sit and hear him sing them live. He performed a mix of songs off of his new album (to which I have not yet listened) and old favourites. Some of the favourites (how does one pick a set list from a repertoire as long and as deep as his?) were ones I had hoped he would play (Pacing the Cage comes to mind) and others were songs I had forgotten I loved. One of the classics I was struck by all over again as I remembered its beauty was Strange Waters.
I’ve seen a high cairn kissed by holy wind
Seen a mirror pool cut by golden fins
Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities
The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity
I’ve stood in airports guarded glass and chrome
Walked rifled roads and landmined loam
Seen a forest in flames right down to the road
Burned in love till I’ve seen my heart explode
You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters
Across the concrete fields of man
Sun ray like a camera pans
Some will run and some will stand
Everything is bullshit but the open hand
You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?
Every time I read or listen to these lyrics, something different jumps out. I think that the first thing that grabbed me last evening was the phrase “You’ve been leading me beside strange waters.” The reference to Psalm 23 is unmistakable, however instead of the “still waters” of the psalmist, we have “strange” waters. Strange seems more accurate to life, certainly to life right now.
Two other lines that jumped out to me last night, and continue to do so today, are in the first verse: [I’ve] Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities / The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity. Part of their impact is a recollection of my time in China. As we walked down a backstreet near the river in Xining, my Chinese language partner turned to me and said, “If you were here with a party member on an official visit, you would not be allowed to come here.” It was a mud-track road with tumbling down brick building on either side. The cavernous doors opened into dark, dank mud floored “houses” where chickens ran around freely and large families squeezed into a single room. Yet this is where a large number of people lived. And the government was trying to take it from them: pushing them to goodness-knows-where so that their houses could be bulldozed and tall apartment blocks put in their place.
The next place my thoughts went was to some of the ideas I am pondering as I reflect on church’s stated mission of being the “Cathedral to the City” and what this entails. It is something I am trying to incorporate into my Holy Week meditations and has therefore been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to be the Cathedral to the City? Part of that is being aware of those around us and working to integrate our worlds: our guest preacher last week called it being an “indigenous church.” In our part of the city, we are faced with both the beautiful but expensive houses and the people who have no other choice but to pull a tattered blanket over themselves as they lie in the doorway of a closed shop. The latter are the truths that the city would rather hide. They are the truths that we must confront if we are to live an engaged life within our community. Some of these individuals are indeed the mad whose blessing must be accepted without pity.
How then do we practice this engagement? I have no answers. It is much easier to ask questions than to actively search oneself, find answers, and make changes… or even find a path to what might eventually become an answer. I hope, through the process of reflection as I prepare for Holy Week, to begin to step onto that path and invite others to walk with me.