You Want It Darker by Dr. Tom Neal (Word On Fire Blog: April 17, 2018) is an exuberant, insightful essay on one of Leonard Cohen’s final songs. I’ve included a couple of excerpts below, but the entire piece, available at the link, is highly recommended reading.
Cohen’s music is searching, pained, edgy, gritty, socially engaged, and religiously dissident, but he relentlessly clings to a Jewish biblical landscape. It was his Judaism, eclectic as it was. Right to the end of his life, he inhabited and was inhabited by his Hebrew faith—its language, worship, narratives—as he grasped for meaning at the very edge of meaning. At the edge of the grave, his grave. This was one of the final songs written and recorded just before his death in 2016. It utterly captivated me last night: “You Want It Darker.” I dreamt of it and then woke up at 3:00 a.m. to write…
The song is just brilliant: raw, shocking honesty, protest in the face of the dark night of evil—spoken before the face of God. It does not sound to me as rebellion, but a laying before God the cursed evil without submitting it to an easy resolve. Not cushioned, romanticized, coated, softened, but prayed out of dark faith into God.
The author, Dr. Tom Neal, is Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, LA