Monday, July 05, 2010

I want to share with you a saint and a song that we've just discovered and are coming to love. The song is co- authored by Leonard Cohen and the woman who also co- authored Joan of Arc and Famous Blue Raincoat, called The Song of Bernadette.

It's beautiful, if nothing else, and tells the story of Bernadette of Lourdes in perfect symmetry with a con- temporary love song. This is Cohen's genius, and apparently he shared it with Jenifer Warnes.

The main reason we've found this, of course, is just trying to learn about our own Bernadette. Her name means 'the courage of a bear,' and I have to say that we've seen a bear-like courage--almost a bovine doggedness, to completely muddle my metaphors--in our Bernadette. What she has seen and suffered, no child should ever even hear about--but she endures with a joy and strength that is supernatural.

Saint Marie-Bernade Soubirous was born in 1844 in Lourdes, France. Her father was a miller and her mother was a laundry woman, and France was no place to live at that time. She nearly died in a plague of cholera as a child, and then suffered from asthma and then TB for her whole, short life.

Four out of eight of her siblings died, and the rest of them lived in a single un-heated room. At the age of 14, she was outside the town gathering firewood with her sister and a friend when she saw what she called ua petita damisela, "a small young lady." Her friend and her sister couldn't see "that one," but Bernadette said that she told her to keep coming back to that site. Bernadette saw her a total of 18 times, and a number of miraculous occurrences emerged there.

"That one" told her, for example, to drink the water that flowed from under the rock where she stood. There was only a bog of mud there, so Bernadette tried to dig it out with her hands. She tried several times to drink the water, but only got a face-full of mud. Of course, by this time the appearances were well known, so this produced an appropriate persecution. But eventually she did manage to drink some water and eat some of the plants that were growing in it, and within a few days a spring of clear water appeared in that spot. Over the last 150 years, the Lourdes Medical Bureau has verified 67 'inexplicable' cures attributed to that water. Bernadette always said that it was no attribute of the water that healed people, but their faith and prayer.

The principle image of the song, though, comes from another incident. One of her visions is said to have lasted about an hour, and she was holding a candle, which burned down to her fingers and seared them without effect for more than 15 minutes. The town doctor was there, but as it didn't seem to affect her in any way, he merely observed it and asked her about it later. She said she didn't remember the candle burning her, she was so wrapped up in the vision. She had no signs of injury afterward, but when the doctor applied another candle to her hands she responded as you would expect.

This is the image that resonates the best with our courageous Bernadette, holding a very flame in her fingers but not getting burned. The Lyrics of Cohen and Warnes' song go:

I just wanna hold you, come on let me hold you
Like Bernadette used to do.

Listen to the rest of the song. It's about hope--and the joy of hope--, to think that there is mercy in this world for those who have been burned and broken. That there is healing for what cannot be restored. That what cannot be undone can be redeemed. That a song can put desire in your heart that will burn like the very fire of the Lord.