I came across this song in one of my many searches for music that speaks to the scripture on my heart. In the haunting and heavy quality of this song, I heard similar refrains to the heartbreaking lament and soul-wrenching challenge Job directs toward God. As I’ve been sitting with Job for the past couple weeks, I wasn’t surprised to discover some parallels between Job’s story and the conditions in which this song and album were written and produced.
“You Want it Darker” is the title track of an album by Leonard’s Cohen released just nineteen days before he died at the age of 82. Suffering from multiple spinal fractures among other physical problems, Cohen recorded this album in his living room because going to a recording studio was too difficult. In the midst of his pain, Cohen seemed to reach new depths of haunting beauty. The whole album becomes an honest reflection on mortality, but the title song also makes a powerful statement. Backed by the choir of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, and echoed by Cantor Gideon Zelermeyer, we hear Cohen proclaim, “Hineni! Hineni!”
In Hebrew, hineni means “Here I am.” It’s a proclamation of complete presence. It’s how Abraham responds when God calls him to sacrifice his son. It’s how Moses responds at the burning bush. And it’s how Eli instructs young Samuel to respond to God calling him in the night.
In a more modern context, it’s also what one Jewish cantor calls, “a prayer for the ability to pray.” Sung by a cantor on the High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it’s a statement that makes real our presence before God.
In this song, I also hear it as a cry of defiance in the face of forces that threaten to distract or even destroy us. I hear it in Job’s responses to his friends and in his direct appeals and protests to God. In my pain and distress, here I am. In my confusion and disillusionment, here I am. It’s a powerful statement of full and complete presence in the, which means we can declare it for ourselves and hear it as a powerful promise of God’s presence with us. In your pain and distress, Here I AM. In your confusion and disillusionment, here I AM. In the depths of your despair, here I AM.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the book of Job is about examining the depths of what it means to be in a covenantal relationship with God. True covenantal faith binds us together because it’s about both us and God continuing to say, “Hineni.” Just as I am and in all things, hineni.
So in the midst of challenging situations and ongoing difficult conversations, may we declare, “Hineni.” May we remain present in the work to create a more just and beautiful world. Hineni! Hineni!