Caught from Behind

A voice from the past whispered in my ear last week. It was a line from a song by Peter, Paul and Mary, a folk trio to whom I had listened a lot when in my late teens. In fact, among the 8-track cassette tapes I took with me to Vietnam in 1970, there were 4 or 5 by the group.  I hadn’t gone back to listen to any of it for decades.

Through the magic of YouTube, I called up a mix and set it to run while I worked in my office. I found it distracting, but pleasant.  The next day I reached back again, and this time did a mix of Judy Collins songs. She was and ever has been my favoritest! It was all background to the stuff I was doing on a different computer when suddenly I was almost struck to the ground by the sound of Judy singing a poem by Leonard Cohen, the Canadian writer, about Joan of Arc. The passion and pain of that song, that poem, that story, have stuck with me for several days.

You can find the poem at

The Youtube video of Judy Collins singing it in 1989 is here:

I’ve been living with it day and night since Wednesday, wondering why it struck me so deeply and seeking its personal meaning for me at this time of my life.  This morning at prayer I may have found something that works for me at this particular moment, though in a month it may all be dust.

I’ve just returned home to Taiwan after 6 months of sabbatical in the USA, during which I was speaking at churches for weeks in a row and riding trains back and forth from those engagements and where I was sojourning in Holland, MI.  I did a lot of the preparation, the speaking and the traveling with little or no regard to divine help.  I think I used up all of the personal energy and charm that I may have started with.  In the poem’s quotation of Joan of Arc saying, “I’m tired of the war…” I see my exhausteion.  In the poem’s quotation of the fire saying to Joan, “I’m glad to hear you talk that way…” I hear the voice of the Spirit of God at last getting a word in edgewise.  In the poet/narrator’s expression that Joan understanding that if “he were fire, she must be wood”  I hear a call to allow my life to be expended for the glory of God.

Again, this meaning works for me today.  Next week, who knows?



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