I wrote this a few weeks ago. I’ve been wrestling with ever since. It may be a little confusing because it’s been written and edited and kicked around for so long. It may not be for everybody. If it doesn’t say something to you just kick it out of your head and move on. It may just be for me.
So anyway here it is.
I recently saw a video of a group doing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah but with lyrics about the birth of Jesus. A Christmas song. It was good. I liked it but I think I prefer the original. Everybody’s done it. If the Lennon Sisters were still about they would probably do it. There are a lot of good ones but I think the best is still Leonard Cohen himself.
If you read the Wikipedia page you get that there are a lot of opinions on what the song is about. It means different things to different people. Cohen went more for imagery than strict narrative so I can see how it’s open to interpretation. To me, though, it’s about David’s sin with Bathsheba.
We just saw the movie Arrival. If you haven’t seen it and you want to you may want to stop reading here. On the face of it the movie is about the arrival of aliens but at it’s core there is a deeper meaning, a deeper question. If you knew the end from the beginning, would you take the step? If Mary had known all the heartaches, the doubts, the pain ahead of her would she have said ‘Yes’? If you had known what was ahead would you have said ‘Yes’ to God?
But I didn’t know, did I? I couldn’t know, could I? It was all joy and light back then. Now, looking back, I see all the mistakes, the thoughtless failures, the deliberate sins, and I can understand what Mr. Cohen is saying.
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah
When I come to the end maybe I won’t be shouting victory. Maybe I’ll be on my knees before the Lord of Glory in humble adoration. I think it will be more like the last verse:
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
No, it hasn’t all gone wrong (no Bathshebas in my past) but enough has that I can understand what the song means. And in this Christmas season I think we need to be reminded.
It’s not me. It’s Him.
Wikipedia says that Leonard Cohen wrote more than eighty drafts of the verses while holed up in a hotel room in New York City. He was sometimes reduced to beating his head against the floor. If you’ve ever attempted to write something of value you can probably remember a time when the right words would not come, when you were reduced to beating your head against the floor, figuratively speaking. But I don’t know if that’s what Cohen was struggling with.
John Knox said, “Give me Scotland lest I die” and maybe we need that pain, that struggle, that passion. But given the subject matter of the song I don’t know if that is what Cohen was feeling.
We look at the world around us and we are in despair. And we point our fingers and say, “Those people. Those people are the problem.” I find something different in this song. I listen and I am reduced to beating my head against the floor, spiritually speaking, and I say, “God forgive me. God cleanse me. God change me.”
We begin a new year and we think about new beginnings. Maybe what we need is a new focus. A new administration, a new congress, new laws and a new Supreme Court? They won’t solve our problems. A call to arms against ‘those people’? That won’t change our culture.
Maybe we do need a new beginning. Maybe this is where it begins. With our faces to the floor. And with nothing on our lips but a cold and broken Hallelujah.
Well it appears that I’m not through yet.
You may read this and think ‘What the heck is wrong with him? What horrible things has he done?’ Nothing wrong. I’m not suicidal. I’m not in deep depression. And I don’t guess I’ve done stuff that’s any more horrible than most. I just think…
Maybe 2017 is not the year of warfare. Maybe it’s the year of surrender.