Not long ago, my colleague the Rev. James Ford, over at Monkey Mind , posted a music video of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah which captivated me and got me singing it constantly. I asked my fellow house-concert musicians if they'd be up for my singing it as part of our concert, even though it isn't really in the Hoagy Carmichael genre (duh!), but one of them was opposed, so I dropped it. But I'm still singing it and re-running the video to learn the words.
In that process, I have been thinking hard about the words. There are several versions out there but of them all, I prefer Cohen's personal version as it appeared on MonkeyMind. Because of the implied violence in one stanza, I've had to examine my attachment to the song.
Here are the words:
"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this,
The fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
If I were ever to sing it for an audience, I would be trying to convey a message. Not of a sexual encounter between King David and Bathsheba, not of the crimes David committed in taking her for his queen and breaking the integrity of the throne, not of the metaphoric shaming of David in the song by alluding to Delilah's cutting of Samson's hair and stealing his strength, but of how, in finding the chord of "Hallelujah", we humans bumble and make mistakes, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately.
The lines "there's a blaze of light in every word, it doesn't matter what you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah" and "And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah" express for me the ecstasy of those times of joy beyond sorrow and shame, that couldn't have happened if it hadn't been for the sorrow and shame, the wisdom that comes from living through that pain and coming out on the other side, understanding and accepting that this is life and life abundant.
And I'm with James, I want it sung at my memorial service!