The Soul of a Man


Altar of the Church of the Good Shepard, Tekapo, NZ.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded that the Christ child came into this world to bring light to the world’s darkness and to lead us back to a relationship with God. The Word became flesh and His light lit up our darkness.

This song was originally written by gospel/blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in the 1930s but the lyrics below is from the cover version done by Bruce Cockburn in 1991 in his album, “Nothing but a burning light”. Bruce, himself, has travelled a long road of discovery during which he dabbled into the occult and studied Buddhism before becoming a Christian. When he announced that he became a Christian, he lost a number of his humanist fans.

The Soul of a Man
I’m going to ask the question
Please answer if you can
Is there anybody’s children can tell me
What is the soul of a man?
Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I’ve travelled different countries
Travelled to the furthest lands
Couldn’t find nobody could tell me
What is the soul of a man
Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I saw a crowd stand talking
I just came up in time
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
That a man ain’t nothing but his mind
Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I read the Bible often
I try to read it right
As far as I can understand
It’s nothing but a burning light
Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
When Christ taught in the temple
The people all stood amazed
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
How to raise a man from the grave
Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

Now Watch the Video

Bruce Cockburn speaks about his faith (Excerpts from interviews)

My faith has undergone drastic transformations and reformations. I was brought up as an agnostic, even though we were surrounded by the symbolism, and when I first became a Christian in the Seventies I didn’t really know what it was I’d adopted. I’ve always been aware of the spiritual side to life, and that awareness has sometimes been very tangible and vivid. But it’s one thing to have this direct experience of contact with something that appears to be central to existence, but then there’s all the uniforms people wear and the customs they adopt. For me, part of the journey has been deciding where I fit in. In the end, I’ve decided that I don’t fit in at all. The proper place for me is outside all the groups.

I still think of myself as a Christian. The only definition of a Christian – I got this from C.S. Lewis – is somebody who accepts the reality of Christ. What is that reality? Well, there we get into fights, don’t we? I know my own experience tells me there is somebody – and it’s not a thing – at the centre of Christianity. I assume it to be Christ, and assume that’s my point of contact with God, whom none of us have a very good definition for. I like to talk about Love rather than God. What we think of as love is his expression of involvement in the universe, and that is the glue that holds everything together, from the subatomic particles up. It is also the hand that breaks us apart, but that has to do with our failure to relate to it properly.

“If I try to understand what it means to be a Christian, I look at the two instructions that were given in the Bible that are paramount, . . . and those are to love God with all your heart and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it.”

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