Leonard Cohen’s final album,’You want it darker’ was released on his 82nd birthday shortly before his death last year. The title song contains the refrain, ‘Hineni, Hineni, I’m ready my Lord’. It is a dark song, but the Hebrew words, ‘Hineni, Hineni’ aren’t dark. They mean ’Here I am’. They are the words with which Abraham responds when God asks for his obedience. They are the words Moses says when God calls to him from the Burning Bush. When God appears before Isaiah and asks who will go with his message, Isaiah says ‘Hineni! Send me!’.
‘Hineni’ is the response that God seeks when he personally calls someone by name. It is not like the automatic answer when the school register being called. It is a call to do something special for God; something difficult and important. It signifies a turning point, a potentially life-changing moment requiring decision, action, and resolution. It is a call that demands a response. As a reply to God it implies, yes, this is something I have to do.
When Leonard Cohen was interviewed and asked about his song he said,
‘That declaration of readiness, no matter what the outcome, that’s a part of everyone’s soul. We are all motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are hoping to serve. So this is just a part of my nature and I think everybody else’s nature to offer oneself at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate. It is only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve. [pause] That’s getting too heavy. I’m sorry. Strike that!
Luckily the interviewer did not strike out his words because Cohen reminds us that everyone knows what it is like to be called – to a task or to a role.
Like Martin Luther King: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Like Martin Luther himself: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.
Whether it is a call to care for refugees in Europe, to stand up for truth in a post-truth world, to support the food bank down the road, or to stand before the community of the faithful in the cathedral, the response is the same: Himeni, here I am.