The Courage of Small Offerings

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 4:30am

The Courage of Small Offerings

The other night I watched Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. It's a documentary about this poet-singer-songwriter's life and work that interweaves clips of Cohen reflecting on his life with great performances by a variety of musicians who've been influenced by his work. I've seen it three times, and that night, as always, I was moved by almost every song. This time around, the song "Anthem" spoke to me with special power:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There's a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

I suspect I'm not the only person who needs those words! Too often, I look at the world's big problems and say to myself, "I'd like to do something about all that. But those problems are so big, and what I have to offer is so small and imperfect, there's really nothing I can do."

Cohen's lyrics remind me that there is a particular kind of courage in the willingness to make one's small, imperfect offering — saying, in effect, "I don't have much to give, but I give it gladly as a contribution to the common good." When we have that kind of courage, we encourage each other. And as more and more people make their small offerings, the cumulative effect can become something big.

Call it the "potluck supper approach" to social change! Or call it the "power of community." Whatever you call it, it's one more way in which the light gets in.

Share Post

Shortened URL


Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you Mr. Palmer..what a meaningful reminder of how powerful and penetrating a bit of light is

A beautiful message to start the day. Than you. Just what I needed to hear this morning.

Cohen, a remaining lone prophetic voice mourning the decline and fall..

I love the image of the potluck supper approach to social change. I so often think there's one big perfect solution, but I think you're right, it's really about all of us bringing what we have and sharing it. Thank you.

It was the offering of this music that reached me in a very deep place this morning. Restless and sad about the
variety of social problems that arise daily in this country and around the world, this surprise offering from Mr. Palmer
and Leonard Chen helped me face that I, too, can give prayer and action, even at my older age....a "cracked
even a bit of the Light can get through..." what a hopeful. image for this late spring morning. Thanks so much.

I believe Leonard Cohen is the poet of my generation (old).

If the robin can sing its song, faithfully every morning, with the hope of a new day....then, I certainly can do the same. Thank you for this simple and meaningful inspiration.

I once cut out the refrain from this poem/song from an advice column. The writer did not know who wrote it, and that began my search for the author,which led to a love for Leonard Cohen and his works.
I will save the Parker Palmer's phrase "the potluck supper" approach to social change- such a wonderful concrete image! I can't help but think about Therese of Liseux, the Little Flower's "Little Way" and Mother Teresa's "do small things with great love." What an inspiring article!

This offering from Parker really came as a simple but lovely blessing to me this morning.
One of my favorite possessions is an ancient yellow ceramic bowl I have from my grandmother. For as long as I can remember it has had some long cracks running through it, and the surface glazing is crazed with age. It's only decoration is a simple outline of a rooster hand-painted by my grandmother half a century or more ago. When my kids were young on occasion I would feel inspired to make them french toast in the morning, and I always turned to that bowl to whip up the egg mixture. As I turned the bowl in my hands, I would remember watching the same bowl turning in my grandmother's hands as she mixed up some custard when I myself was the youngster in the kitchen. As I look at the brush strokes on the rooster I see a reminescence of my grandmother's loving delicate touch. As I remember these things I also call to mind my last remembrance of my grandmother -- at the rise of dinner the night before she died she suddenly reached out and took my father's hand and kissed it, and then she took my hand and kissed it.
All those memories -- all that light freighted into a little yellow bowl!
When I woke up Saturday morning I felt like making some french toast for my wife and me and our one remaining teen daughter still at home, but when I went to retrieve my favorite little bowl, I discovered that age had finally gotten the better of it as it does of all things. The cracks had finally penetrated through and broken about a quarter of it out. Needless to say, I was heavy-hearted at this small loss, but on Sunday morning before heading off to meeting something drew me to the On Being web site and the simple offering provided by you and Leonard Cohen.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.
It's how the light gets in.

Those words transformed this little loss into a new metaphor for me.
I had thought I would super glue my little bowl together again, but after hearing this lyric I decided simply to place it in the corner cabinet as a quiet testimony to the beauty and grace of broken offerings.
All things age and fail eventually but love.
Thank you.

I listened (again) to the Brene Brown podcast this morning. Her comments on hope and suffering were great, reminding me at moments of words from the letter to the Romans. She mentioned Leonard Cohen in the conversation. Your inclusion of him was a special gift. I listened to Anthem, and then found Halleluia. Thanks.

Wow!! Is all I can say. What a transfusion of hope and courage.

Thank you for this reflection. This clip is one of my favorite. There is such humility, reverence and love in the concert offering and the message as you have distilled in your blog.