"I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"
Funny how the "official" lyrics to the song don't exactly match how Leonard most often sings it. But it's his song, right? He sings it differently every time.
That's a good thing to keep in mind; everything changes. You and I may listen to the same recording of a song, over and over, but the recording only captures how that song was sung in one moment of time, not the song itself.
Nor does the song capture the event or feeling or moment in time it was written about. It suggests, perhaps, but does not capture or describe. Leonard may, when he sings it, be singing the inspiration behind the song but he may not - he has sung it so many times in so many ways, the song itself now has its own identity built up around it, even for the songwriter, and then a different identity for each member of the band, the back-up vocalists, the audience and the janitor hanging around backstage.
You see what I'm getting at, yes? No one hears the same song as anyone else. At best we have agreed upon similarities between the versions we hold in our minds, that's it. Then there's something like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", try getting any two people to agree on what the lyrics to that are all about!
Objectivity is a slippery thing, nowhere more so than when we're discussing something that touches the heart, like music. Or art. Or beauty of any kind. When we say "the eye of the beholder" what we mean is the heart.
The Bible is art, and so it is to be read with the heart, not for historical facts but for meaning. It helps if we can place ourselves, figuratively, into the culture and context within which it was written, the Ancient Near East, a culture and context that is, unfortunately, almost entirely foreign to us with our urban, Western minds. We are literal, we want facts, even our arts strive for "realism". We are urban, our eyes are used to the straight lines of buildings and streets, the grid images of stacked floors and windows reflecting more windows like so many blinded eyes.
But you see, it is not the culture and context of the Bible that is alien to us, we are alien to it. We are "new" in human history. We are, in a sense, foreigners to this planet. Our changes as human beings seem almost to make us a new species. But however much our minds may have changed, I don't think they have evolved, as in improved. I don't think we've devolved necessarily, that's not what I'm saying. We have struck off on a different tangent, though, and have been off on it for just long enough that we have very little shared experience left with our great-grandparents, let alone the Ancient Near East. Just the invention of electric light that has blocked out the wonders of the night sky and our buildings that break up the horizon - how much has that changed us? We believe ourselves to have so much more now, but how much less do we have? I would suggest that as we have lost the very sky, we have lost a great deal.
In the course of my work as an elder for my virtual church, over the last few days I've had occasion to do some exploring in regions of the internet I hadn't seen much of before. It seems there are sites (galore) out there devoted to such things as: whether or not angels are aliens, hyperdimensional wars and the "proof" of them encoded in the Bible, and the physics behind the powers of fallen angels (the angels = aliens thing is big on the internet!). As much as I want to ridicule this stuff, I cannot, because it speaks to a search for meaning, and that's common to all humans.
Of course the fact of the matter is that some of those sites may be satire (and I hope they are). Many (most?) are created out of thin air by unscrupulous types taking advantageous of the credulous and the fearful. Some are by genuine believers. Which is these is the most sad? I leave that to you.
Something came to me, though, and I've been wondering about it .. is all this talk of aliens coming about because we have lost our footing - literally? We rarely walk upon the actual earth, only sidewalks, we rarely see an unbroken sky, most of the trees and grass we know are groomed. Unlike our Biblical ancestors (or great grandparents) we don't know the smell of a goat or the taste of real water or even the sounds of children playing with sticks and rag dolls, our children's toys are plastic and battery powered. We live a futuristic, alien existence, and I believe that is what has "captured" the imaginations of the people who are attracted to these sites. Especially for those who have grown up with the mythology of the Matrix, the virtual is now more real to them than the here and now. Like any Westerners, they read their new mythology back into the Bible.
This is an education for me, this is a correction of my perceptions about my fellow humans. A Chesed moment, in the sense of God's loving correction in my understanding, where He says "hey, no, it's not like you think". I had no idea that the Bible was being read this way, no idea at all. So it is a wake up call to me that there are those, especially among the young, who still (interestingly) look to the Bible for some guidance, but they simply do not have the reference points to begin to understand it, so they bring what they think they know and lay it overtop. Sort of as though someone were to lay a hip-hop beat over that Leonard Cohen song and insist to you that's how he meant it to be performed, he just didn't have the technology at the time.
Of course it's worse than that, but you see what I mean.
Oh and here's the aforementioned "Stairway to Heaven", just for fun. (I know what those lyrics mean, do you?)