During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the dramatic special effects spectacle stood still for K.D. Lang’s singing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
I’ve heard the chorus of the song before, primarily as background music in any television show that wants to have a semi-spiritual moment. But I’d never really listened carefully to the words.
Leonard Cohen spent several years in a Buddhist monastery and is known as a poet and song writer who grapples with spiritual questions in his body of work. And although it is not a “Christian song” bringing us to a clear message of hope in Christ, several verses of this song probe deep and insightful questions of our Christian walk.
The song (at least much of it) seems to be about King David and his fall into sin and struggle.
That tune has been circling in me repeatedly since Saturday night’s opening ceremonies, and there are three ideas that continue to be on my mind:
1. “Hallelujah” is the Hebrew word that means “Praise Yahweh” It is an exclamation point of gratitude and worship.
We usually hear “hallelujah” in songs that are upbeat and full of clear theology and salvation. But this song seems to have such a haunting, floating, and searching melody.
There are times of life for all of us when we are searching for stability and life is complex, difficult, and hard to understand. During those times we not only don’t have the answers, but hardly know the questions to ask or how to pray.
We can still pray Hallelujah, because we know the loving, protecting, and grace-filled nature of God who loves us, even in our times of questions, searching, or doubts.
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
2. “The baffled king composing Hallelujah” So often we assume our spiritual heroes had it all figured out. When we read their stories, we sometimes even recast their story into a children’s Sunday School version where their spiritual walk was nice and tidy, and they always exemplified a well-ordered theology.
Showing the reality of David’s life, this phrase of the song captures David so well – even at the periods when his life wasn’t put together and orderly, he could praise God and reach out with his praise as well as his questions.
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 you?
it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall, the major lift
the baffled king composing Hallelujah
3. “and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah” I am overwhelmed at the significance of this phrase and the hard question it asks all of us.
This verse describes David’s fall and sin – in just a few words, as only a remarkable poet can articulate.
So we have the King – although far from perfect, growing in his faith. And then as he is drawn into sin by allowing himself to be put in a position that will intensify his temptation. He gives into it, all that he values is taken from him…..including most importantly, his “hallelujah.”
Is there anything in your life that takes the ability to praise God from you? What could “draw from you your hallelujah?” • a poorly grounded relationship? • a selfish or resentful attitude? • a skewed priority? • a secret sin?
Whatever might draw the hallelujah from you . . . Is it worth it?
Can you say with full breath “hallelujah” or have you allowed something to come into your life that has taken that from you?
Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
you saw her bathing on the roof
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
she tied you to a kitchen chair
she broke your throne, she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Cohen’s song continues with a variety of verses that articulate the struggle of faith, love, and how life is not a straight line of success.
But rather than just a continual searching, and settling for our best effort, our hope is found in God’s redeeming love.
So through the words of some of the stanza’s of another song – this one sung by King David, rather than written about him (Psalm 51) – hear the true ending to this song by Leonard Cohen:
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my shameful deeds – they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.