Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
January 2023 - Volume 23, No. 1
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A Crack in Everything

“There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen “Anthem”[1]

This year, this new year 2023, is not going to be an easy one either. We can tell already.
Maybe there will never be an easy year in the rest of our lifetime.[2]
Though maybe for our children…

Many years ago, someone was discussing the presence of evil, often spoken of as “the mystery of evil.” His response was “Yes there is evil in the world, but the true mystery is the mystery of goodness.

Ever since I first came across these words, “there’s a crack in everything” I’ve had the same imagination. I’m enclosed in an old structure, made of old wood, like an old shed. And there are cracks, especially in the ceiling, through which sunlight enters. At first I focus on the broken ceiling, but then realize that sunlight allows me to ‘see’ more clearly much of what’s around me (here). Even to the ability to see myself.

Broken / Flawed / Imperfection

Does this mean ‘everything is broken?’ Or does it mean that everything needs to be broken? Everything (by nature) must be imperfect. Or perhaps everything having to do with being human must be flawed. It’s what allows us to be truly human, in our work and our relationships.

It’s said every Persian rug-maker knows to weave a flaw into his or her design, even though it may be invisible to even the most discerning observer. The alternative is an insult to the Almighty, who can be the only perfection. Islam takes very seriously any insult to the Almighty.

(I think this is true story.) Some years ago the Brooklyn Art Museum (2nd largest in NYCity) featured a major exhibit of Navajo Sand Painting, for which a number of artisans from our Southwest were contracted. Navajo art is much like other indigenous art, very precise and balanced (like an oriental rug design). One of the artists noted to a particular curator that each piece purposely had a flaw, an imperfection. The curator begged the artisan “Can’t you just make one that is flawless?” The artisan responded, “If I make even just one perfect, tomorrow morning every woman in Brooklyn will be pregnant!” (Perfection cannot be tolerated in the material world.)

This also elucidates the ancient power of and general proscription against the practice of Sorcery.

Our own (Judeo-Christian) first commandment is the commandment against idolatry, of making something into God which is not God. It’s sad that the power of this preeminent commandment seems to be forgotten (or ignored) in our culture (both secular and sacred).

We live in a culture that seems to worship the pursuit of perfection, of the necessity and virtue of doing it right.

And so what is the fascination and hope behind Leonard’s lyrics?

The Light

Mythically and actually, Light is not something we can look at. Rather it illuminates other than itself, so what we see is what it sees for and with and within us. In my primary fantasy (see above) it shows me what’s on the floor, so I can see where I’m standing or what I’m standing on (quite useful actually). But even more-so, it can illuminate what my mind, my ‘thinking organ’ is seeing, as well as what my heart my ‘relationship organ’ can see.

First, there is the Light from outside - an illuminating radiance like on the face of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, and the radiance of Jesus in the Mount of Transfiguration narrative. There is a “crack” in reality to allow this new ‘intrusion’.

Secondly, there is the light that begins to emanate from the deep self within each of us, perhaps we can call it ‘soul light’ that lights the path before us with healing gifts for each other and for a troubled world. In a sense we are “cracked open” for purpose and service. A wild horse is ‘broken’ so it can serve the work of the ranch, the collective. A woman’s hymen is ‘broken’ to open the possibility of producing children if she chooses. Some may consider it a “calling.”

Yes, this new year 2023 will be again a difficult year for so many - a year of trouble and chaos, of much suffering and confusion. But the promise is that there can also be a “crack” in the troubles. And that’s “where the Light comes in.”

And may 2023 also be a year of the mystery of Light and genuine bit-moments of human goodness. Like Leonard Cohen gave us.

Maybe it’s just ‘cracking’ a smile to someone in passing.

Pay attention.


[1] (2008) YouTube (Sorry for the ads)

[2] I have an old friend in a dementia ward down in Florida. Maybe for her it can be a good year. I certainly hope so.

Comments (2)

  • Reflections

    What came up for me was a disco ball pixilating colors across the floor of a roller rink, circa 1964! And we go round and round and round. Happy New Year, Bill.

    — Cynthia, 1/9/2023
  • Enjoyed the analogy and song

    Thanks for this, Rev. Bill -
    It is a good way to look at the broken around us. It reminds me of the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi. Thanks for continuing to post these.

    — Julie, 1/10/2023

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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