Leonard Cohen Awarded Knighthood, Sainthood

Death is not extinguishing the light. It is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” – Rabindranath Tagoreleonard-cohen

When those of us living at Heart Mountain Monastery heard the news of Brother Leonard’s passing, we asked the Abbot what we could do, should do to honor and respect his passing. After all, in one season or another Leonard Cohen’s beautiful, heartfelt, soul rich art had lit the path, mended the heart, and lifted the spirt for every one of us, monks and nuns, artists, fellow travelers.

“First, let’s just thank him, and help send him on his way,” the Abbot replied, “in the traditional ways, and in whatever way feels most natural. And then maybe we’ll think of something special. ”

The physical grounds of HMM (we are a “monastery without walls,” so the physical grounds are the least important part of our identity) are located in what was once a Methodist Church camp, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halfway between Laporte, Colorado, and Laramie Wyoming. Years ago we converted one of the small A-framed cabins into a cozy little meditation hall and chapel that we call Valley View, because of the expansive view it affords of both the mountain valley and the plains. So on that first evening after we heard of Leonard’s passing we gathered in Valley View where each of us lit a candle, and thanked Leonard for his artistry, and life path. A few of us chanted Buddhist verses and then Sarah Field said some Jewish prayers.  Larry Winston connected the sound system to the satellite and tuned in the Leonard Cohen channel on I-Tunes, which had not only Leonard singing his own songs, but everyone from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell… the list goes on.

At the end of that first brief evening, we left our candles burning, and the songs playing. We were inspired to do a vigil for him, the way the Tibetan monks Buddhists suggest.  So one of us would stay in the cabin with the songs and the candles. We took turns through the night. And we let our friends and fellow travelers in town and across the country know what we were doing.

The next morning, others started showing up, to light candles of their own, and be part of the grateful ceremony. They too, took turns at the vigil. And then more and more. We hung pictures of Leonard around the room. People started sharing their personal stories of how Leonard had been such a comfort, such an inspiration to them at various times and places in their lives. Over the next few days many prayers and chants were sent up, in the tradition of  the Jews, Buddhists, Methodists, Taoists, Native Americans, and cowboy country who-the-hell knows.

Several days later, Barry Colson, who had driven up from Santa Fe,  said, “It looks like a saint has just passed. It feels just like that.” And then Patty Showalter, from Durango,  said, “Yes! He was a saint” She became very excited. She’s been part of our community for a long time—her first hubby, now in Belgium, was a founding member. She knows how we roll.  It was Patty who said, “I grew up Catholic. I loved the saints, until I learned better. But I miss them.  Let’s canonize Leonard Cohen. Make him our saint.”

When we told the Abbot, he laughed, and said it was a wonderful idea.   Someone found a quote by Cohen: “What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love.”

Obviously, Leonard Cohen was the bard of love, deep love,. Wounded love, unrequited and unending love, not only of others, but of self, and life itself. He had achieved the “remote human possibility” of expressing that love so often, in so many places, in words and songs, stories and art. It was only fitting we make him our first saint.

To make a long story short, on Armistice Day, Friday, November 11,  four days after his passing, at the urging of the Abbot we held a lively and somewhat cantankerous but mostly hilarious convention where we appointed David Silver, since he was a lawyer, as the “devil’s advocate,”  traditionally known as the Defender of the Faith, to argue against the canonization of Leonard Cohen. This is the process the Catholic Church uses, to insure the proposed saint’s character is strong and worthy of sainthood.  This is also the time when any miracles associated with the saint are presented.

Basically, David presented the many stories of Leonard’s use—and overuse—of alcohol, and drugs. His reported and repeated infidelities. And for each of these instances one or more of us would counter with his honesty about such activities, his transparency, his aching heart shared with all who were open to it.

And the miracles! Each of us shared how he had saved our lives, or at least our sanity, our faith in humanity, here or there, or here and there, with his words and songs and life’s pilgrimage through so many different seasons. In his closing arguments for sainthood, Larry Winters read Cohen’s lyrics for “I am Your Man, to wit:

If you want a lover

I’ll do anything you ask me to

And if you want another kind of love

I’ll wear a mask for you

If you want a partner, take my hand, or

If you want to strike me down in anger

Here I stand

I’m your man


If you want a boxer

I will step into the ring for you

And if you want a doctor

I’ll examine every inch of you

If you want a driver, climb inside

Or if you want to take me for a ride

You know you can

I’m your man


Ah, the moon’s too bright

The chain’s too tight

The beast won’t go to sleep

I’ve been running through these promises to you

That I made and I could not keep

Ah, but a man never got a woman back

Not by begging on his knees

Or I’d crawl to you baby and I’d fall at your feet

And I’d howl at your beauty like a dog in heat


David  said, “How can’t I argue against that? He’s our man.”

But then Randy Jones spoke up, and complained, in a very serious tone, that he was not all that excited about the canonization process. “I appreciate what you’re doing,” he said.
But I’m an atheist.” (A good percentage of the monks and nuns at HMM are either atheists or agnostics.) “I love Leonard Cohen as much as any of you here. When I was in the navy, he saved my soul—if I had a soul. But this whole canonization thing doesn’t resonate with me. In some ways, it feels like we are trivializing, maybe even besmirching his memory. Besides, he was a good Jewish Buddhist boy. One of my favorite quotes of his is, ‘I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies of religion, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.’  Leonard Cohen was way beyond all this religious sectarian shit.”

That put somewhat of a damper on things.

“Yes, I agree,” Sarah Brownstein said. “Leonard Cohen was my knight in shining honor. I would listen to him when I lived in Brooklyn, which was the hardest time of my life.  I wanted to go run away with him.”

Hearing Sarah and Randy,  Jeff Grant said, “Hey, guys! Instead of canonizing him, let’s make him a knight. Instead of making him HMM’s first saint, we can make him HMM’s first knight! Like Richard Branson.”

“No, I want him as our saint,”  someone else shouted. And then of course, it became obvious. We could both knight him and canonize him, and do it in the same gathering.

Knowing in advance the outcome of our tribunal, earlier in the week we had sent out the word that we would have a “canonization” celebration on Saturday night, November 12, to publicly honor Leonard Cohen, and canonize him—make him the first official saint of HMM.  Now we would also make him the first Knight. Gerald Beavers did the research. He found that to become a Knight one is awarded a spot in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  We decided our knights would be awarded a spot in the Most Excellent Order of the Artist’s Borderless Empire.    Everybody seemed pleased with the deal.

The word went out about what we were doing– that we were having both a  knighting and canonization celebration for Leonard Cohn on November 12. People started arriving in the mid afternoon. By the time the ceremony was ready—in the main hall at HMM, — we had over 300 people—friends and artists and strangers who had never heard of HMM. Everyone came to honor of the man.  It was a potluck.

With none of us having much experience with either canonization or knighting, we winged it. We laughed a lot. We first did the canonization, and then the knighthood. I’ll spare you the details. They were a little embarrassing, but again, fun as hell, and laughter until our sides split.

At the close of the ceremony, the Abbot gave a brief talk. He basically said that although        Leonard Cohen was not a formal member of our community— indeed, he probably had never heard of us– he nevertheless was an elder, a brother, a guide a fellow pilgrim, leading the way, bringing light to almost every single artist monk and nun among us.

The Abbot said, and this I do remember,  that “Leonard took us all, one by one, to his place near the river, where we call could hear th boats go by. And we spent many nights beside him. He filled our homes and apartments and lonely drives across the country with words and tunes drawn straight from the depths of his soul. And yet it wasn’t his soul, it was our own soul, our own deeper music he introduced us to, and confirmed us in the choir.  He caught the many moment of our lives with a delicate yet deeply powerful, honest hand,, a poet’s fierce love.”

Afterwards, we had a wonderful, crazy potluck dinner in the main gathering hall. Full to overflowing. And then we cleared the tables and had dance and music—every kind of dance, every kind of music: a square dance, and a waltz, and jitter  bug. They even played, “Don’t be Cruel”

And around midnight, when we went out into the crisp mountain air, we were lit up by the “near moon,” the super moon, and we felt it was Leonard’s light that was shining with us, as near as he had ever been. We thanked him, again and again…

Thank you, Sir Saint Leonard. You have deepened our hearts, increased our capacity to love and laugh and cry about it all again.  You will forever be with us.

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