This morning I stood in awe at the most amazing sunrise revealed behind the leafless skeletal branches of the trees opposite the White House. Here was a moment of breathtaking beauty. But the scene also revealed another image. The black trees cut through the distant blood-red glow, breaking the light into fragments. This reminded me of a well-known other image about the cracks that let the light in. This is an enduring image we can find in Hemingway and in a lyric from the influential singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
In 1929 Hemingway published a novel set during World War I titled “A Farewell to Arms”, and he discussed the universality of human pain and resilience, that we are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.
Cohen picks up this motif in a lyric: Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
The words of Hemingway and Cohen have also been merged to yield the idea that breakage typically causes cracks, and light symbolically represents spiritual strength and insight.
This morning I felt keenly this image of brokenness and my brokenness. A bishop once described those in ministry, particularly the parish priest, as like a cracked, fractured pot, but still a vessel where we try to hold everyone in our hands and on our hearts to God. There will always be failure, there will always be brokenness but it is the cracks that let the light in.
Last week’s edition of Church Times ran a feature on courses and daily reflections for Lent. The titles include subjects such as learning to pray from those who talked to Jesus, hope and redemption, adversity to maturity, daring to see God now, and the beauty of the cross. The season of Lent reminds us more than any other season of the church year that we are broken as Jesus was broken but the cross, like my sunrise trees splintering the sky, is indeed the crack that let the light and as the poet, Emerson puts it: there is a crack in everything God has made.