Tag Archives: Christian Life

A Final Hallelujah

Of course this isn’t to be my final Hallelujah, as far as I know; but my final thoughts after a week of reflection, study, and mediation on the poem and melody of Leonard Cohen entitled simply and profoundly, Hallelujah.

Of note to me, the song is going round and round in my head in this Christmas season 2019. I’m not sure why? But it gives me joy, peace, pause, and wonder.

I’ll share with you the best article I’ve found about the song, a 2015 Newsweek article by Zach Schonfeld. It’s insightful though written primarily about the song’s musical attributes and its popularity, from a secular point of view.

Schonfeld notes, “The album on which it appeared, the murky, mid-career Various Positions, had been rejected wholesale by Columbia Records in the U.S., and when it finally was released, “the song was still generally ignored,” as Alan Light notes in his 2012 book The Holy or The Broken.

The Holy or the Broken? That’s an insightful title for a book about the song. It’s also telling that the album on which it first appeared was entitled “Various Positions” isn’t it? Since he’s Jewish, to begin with, and the song, albeit quite short, addresses simply and profoundly the issues of God, the Bible, human sexuality, the philosophy of life and one’s earth journey, admissions of struggle and failures, and yet seems to somehow point to God as the answer from start to finish. Purposely it would seem, and honestly, in a mysterious and understated way. And people definitely have “various positions” on these issues— he did apparently.

Light would go on to say, “John Cale and Jeff Buckley, then dozens and hundreds of others lifted the song out of obscurity” but it is “something more mysterious that cemented its status as a modern standard, appearing on American Idol and in synagogue services in equal measure. It has become ubiquitous. Tallying versions by Cohen and plenty of others, Light estimates “Hallelujah” has been listened to hundreds of millions of times on YouTube alone.

The Newsweek article goes on to list “60 notable recordings of it that are readily available online and ranking them from worst to best.” 🙂 Feel free. For our purposes here I’m going to list and link my two favorites at the bottom, then one in Cohen’s own voice, as well as the lyrics he settled on and a few quotes that reflect on the man.

Etymology of Hallelujah

It doesn’t seem right to leave the song without a good look at the meaning of its famous title and course. It’s a Hebrew word lifted directly from that ancient language and dropped into English, simply transliterated as “praise the LORD.”

Wikipedia adds, “In the Hebrew Bible hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase, not one word. The first part, hallelu, is the second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hillel. However, “hallelujah” means more than simply “praise Jah” or “praise Yah”, as the word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God.

In Psalm 148:1 the Hebrew says “הללו יה halelu yah”. It then says “halelu eth-YHWH” as if using “yah” and “YHWH” interchangeably. The word “Yah” appears by itself as a divine name in poetry about 49 times in the Hebrew Bible (including halelu yah), such as in Psalm 68:4–5 “who rides upon the skies by his name Yah” and Exodus 15:2 “Yah is my strength and song”. It also often appears at the end of Israelite theophoric names such as Isaiah “yeshayah(u), Yahweh is salvation” and Jeremiah “yirmeyah(u), Yahweh is exalted”. The word hallelujah occurring in the Psalms is therefore a request for a congregation to join in praise toward God. It can be translated as “Praise Yah” or “Praise Jah, you people”.

With Cohen’s Hebrew roots and his love for poetry, there can be no doubt the word was well understood and meaningfully used with sincere intentionality. When it’s sung and heard, it seems all creation and the Creator pause with a heart smile to take note. The best is yet to be.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)

Hallelujah הללויה

Hallelujah – Pentatonix
Regina Spektor
Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah Lyrics

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Leonard Cohen

“Hallelujah” Summary

Oddly, the summary I’m going to share is from the notes I wrote in one sitting after reading the lyrics before beginning all the meditation.

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is:
A hauntingly beautiful melody
Introducing
A true confession.
A humble confession.
To all mankind
From a fellow, broken pilgrim
About a hidden God.

Whose love is an
Open Secret.

Too holy and too precious to
Be passed flippantly around.
But for the hungry, humble heart
There to be found.

All of this
Given by the God of Grace
To His broken vessel.

It’s the only kind He has.
…But he who falls on this Rock
Will be broken. (Matt 21:44)

Cohen seemed to struggle by himself…
To know the Maker, Creator,
Sustainer of All.

All the verses from Cohen’s
Cutting room floor (80 or more)
Would bear this out.

A struggle largely unfulfilled
But grasped at
To find the One Who
Put eternity in our hearts.

Love is not a victory march,
Rather it’s hard fought.

Perhaps a priest at the end?
A Cohen at last?

Like Sampson fulfilling the purposes
Of God for his life,
After a mighty struggle marked with
Many failings.

His song leaves us to decide if it is a
Holy or Broken Hallelujah?
And also to ponder the difference .

With a victorious note at the end
He acknowledges the futility of
Being one’s own king.

The many heartbreaks, disillusions,
And disappointments of a life
Without faith.

Yet one senses at the end
A possible “Return of the Prodigal” (Luke 15:11)
Or at least an acknowledgment
Of a glimmer of faith
In the Father, the Name, the beautiful Light —

The Lord of Song

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Christmas Hallelujah

Part Two of Two

Then a summary of the priest’s life comes in the last verse, along with his final confession. You may ask, “Why did you call Cohen a priest?”

The name Cohen in Hebrew denotes a priest. To be a priest may have been a call on his life or his job description from the Lord? His destiny? To make God known to the people and to pronounce forgiveness, restoring relationships between God and men. It is a high calling.

Yet the calling is not that different from that of David or Sampson or any of us. To know God and make him known, in the time and place God plants us. (Acts 17:22-32)

All He requests from us is an invitation to let him tabernacle within us. (Revelation 3:20 and Isaiah 66:1-2) To be His image bearers again and anew. Then we have this treasure in earthen vessels. (II Cor 4:7) And let him be the light that dwells in us and shines through the brokenness of our lives, bringing healing to us and all who behold it.

As someone has accurately said, “No one can go back and make a new start my friend. But anyone can start from now, and make a brand new end.”

Whether Cohen made a brand new start or came to know the Light or made peace with the Light is unknown. That is a mystery known only to God, like so many others. But the summary of his life in his song and his final confession in verse four gives me hope that he did.

It’s a humble confession and one that finishes strong!

“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.”

It’s almost as if he said, “I tried to live life on my own and figure out God on my own. I wasn’t successful, and I’ve told you as much. In fact I failed and it all went wrong.”

Then there is the blazing, strong confession at the end. Sort of like Job’s confession when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives and He will stand at last on the earth.” (Job 19:25-27) Cohen says. “I’ll stand before the Lord of Song.” There will be a reckoning with the Almighty which he gently, and beautifully addresses as “the Lord of Song,” since he is a musician, but one senses he knows Him to be Lord of All.

“With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

“God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecc 5:2)

Then follows the ending, the gentle, powerful refrain; not twice this time but four times, followed by a single, “Hallelujah”—“Glory to the Lord,” as Cohen defined it.”

My dad was a wildlife officer for forty years, also an accomplished hunter, naturalist, outdoorsman, trapper, and explorer. He was at home in the woods, and the deeper the better. If he came across a wet sandy spot, a mud hole, or any watering hole; he could tell you every animal that had been by the place and about how long ago.

I’m at home in the spiritual woods and feel with some degree of accuracy I can see someone’s spiritual tracks and identify them. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruit.” And Solomon said, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out.”

Leonard Cohen’s spiritual foot prints are complex and a little confusing, but telling.

As many people find his song depressing as find it hopeful. Many wonder how these words could have been written by a man of faith, yet with such admitted failure and questionable fruit in his life. Many see echoes of the thief on the cross, and an epiphany in his life.

It’s plain to any biblically-knowledgeable person, Cohen knew his Bible and had perhaps seen some deeper things about the Lord; as well as the end of life for every human being.

The Preacher says, “God has placed eternity in the human heart.”

Leonard Cohen gave voice and words to that reality. And it’s a voice and reality we humans recognize, whether we understand it or not.

It’s baffling to some and beautiful to others. It’s a mystery, like something God would do or say — a parable of Jesus or an instruction from the throne of God to the prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah chapter 6.

The fact that Cohen recognized that about God and wrote like this is telling within itself. It’s evidence that he knew something of the understated ways and purposes of God.

Most telling for me is that at the end, he seems to throw himself, all that he is, on the mercy of God. And that my friend is the only safe and worthwhile place to throw oneself.

“I beseech you…by the mercies of God” writes Paul the first century Jew and Christian.

Covering the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle of Israel, there rested the all important “mercy seat “over the law, the manna and the rod of Aaron that budded. The very presence of God with man. Emmanuel.

Yes, Leonard Cohen’s life is a mystery of sorts, especially his spirituality and standing before God. It is. Maybe it is so for a reason. His life is like his song.

But I sense strongly that God loved Leonard Cohen, even has he ran away from Him. And journeyed far away from Him. In His merciful and all-seeing eyes He found something good in Cohen’s heart towards God.

God gifted him with this melody, I believe, and helped him pen these words. A modern parable of the kingdom of God perhaps. Something a priest can tell the people who want to know, about God. Millions and millions of people. Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Thank you Leonard Cohen for painting your real life picture in song, a picture of us all, before God. Perhaps the strongest picture since Jesus painted with words the prodigal son and the incredible father in the trilogy of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coins, and the Lost Son. (Luke 15)

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix