Holy & Broken Hallelujah
Some of you will know what I’m talking about when I say ‘there’s been a song for every moment or season in life’.
When Leonard Cohen sadly passed away in late 2016, Gungor released a version of his famous song ‘Hallelujah’ (link below) which was rendered with a musically plain and mournful tone, in a monastic setting. Now I don’t know the Gungor family very well but a glimpse of what was seen and heard of their life on social media and what they experienced in life in all its beauty and consolation, was felt and expressed in their cover of the song.
This is one of favourite songs of all time. It is my clutch song now. For this moment, for this season. Here’s why.
At 25, I never thought the word Hallelujah would become so significant. It’s something that I was saving till I got to 50 or older. When I have gone through plenty of life and I have the experience to then say.. whatever comes, whatever happens, Hallelujah. No, its now.
Before I give you a brief reflection on Cohen’s song, this is what hallelujah means:
Hallelujah finds its origins in Hebrew, loosely translated to God be praised which is paraphrase of praise Yah. It is an utterance of worship and an expression of joy. Jah or Yah - some people say its short for Jehovah, or Yahweh. Take your pick, I’m no hebrew expert, lets keep it simple for the sake of this expedition.
In this song, I hear hallelujah as a metaphor... let me try to explain.
Cohen, when he was asked why the song become so popular, he replied “it’s got a good chorus”. The repeated Hallelujah is a raw, honest refrain regardless of the scenario presented in the verses. Whether Cohen had a faith in God or any god, we don’t know. His song however did contain numerous references to biblical narratives. Each verse contains analogies for some experience in Cohen’s life which parallels to the lives of a lot of people. The verses are naked with emotion, the wit is cunning and the metaphors are too close to home.
A quiet hallelujah.
David played a secret chord? I would like to know what that is because it pleased the Lord! But who cares about music anyway. The role of music in society is subtly affirmed and questioned in within a sentence. The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift - these are chords that accompany or harmonise the melody of the song. Cohen purposefully uses technical language followed by the line the baffled king composing hallelujah. The story of David tells that King Saul of Israel would get stressed, anxious, depressed and lose his mind over life but when David played his harp, King Saul would return to a peaceful state. One of rest and resolve. In one verse, Cohen expresses musical technicality, society’s lack of care for proper music, but also intends that the apparent lack of musical technicality or care for music doesn’t matter; though I am baffled, I’ll still 'compose', or express hallelujah. Music still has an effect whether it is understood or not. Through music, peace is given and received, storms can be calmed, anxieties are quietened. A quiet hallelujah.
A sorry hallelujah.
Life will always draw hallelujahs from my lips whether I want to or not. Repeatedly. In this case, the hallelujah is pure remorse twinned with regret and repentance. I wish I could say this particular one has been seldom the case. It is has been more common than I’d like. The verse about strong faith needing proof, being overthrown by the beauty and the moonlight of her bathing on the roof - an analogy for all selfish desires. The inherent fallen nature of humanity is a melody we simple cannot change. We have no choice. That melody is drawn, involuntarily from our lips. We’ll always sing the Hallelujah of remorse, our throne will continually be broken and our hair will be cut. A sorry hallelujah.
A holy & broken hallelujah.
In following verses, Cohen sings and iterates various metaphors for hallelujah. The last verse brings closure and it is sublime... but holy or broken? This has me in knots. I have a feeling Cohen tells us we need both. The holy.. for when life is great, progress is made, success is achieved. In the sense of a 'pure' hallelujah that is full of joy and praise, an uplifted life without a care for a thing in the world. And... in the same way a mountain has valleys either side and a valley has mountains either side, holy has broken next to (with) it. God has Jesus at his right side. Jesus was broken, God is holy... selah (I’m taking poetic licence on the unexplainable Trinity.. before I get hate comments).
Cohen sings, there is a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah. The 'word' here is hallelujah, which contains light, a blaze of light. A hallelujah is a hallelujah, as long as it is one, that is all that matters. Both are needed, both are drawn from our lips, sometimes, that is all we have. The broken one.. ‘I don’t understand why’, ‘help me’, ‘I can’t do this anymore’, ‘I give up’, ‘I’m done with this’ and it is a part of my life as much as the 'holy' one I explained earlier. I need them both. Both has blazes if light in it, where there is light, there is life, there is honesty, there is something true about it all. A holy & broken hallelujah.
This has been an honest, analogical reflection of life at the moment of how straightforward and overtly difficult it has been at the same time. There's a hallelujah for every moment. They won't all sound the same and they won't all fit. Some will be uttered for the first time, others will be floors you've walked on many times before, nevertheless - hallelujah.
I won’t ruin the last verse like I have done to the others.. it brings closure. Cohen says it better and Gungor sings it very well.. have a listen.