I was privy to a sermon by Pastor Brian this weekend. He loves music apparently as much as me. It was a large part of his sermon whether the congregation caught it all. “Selah” was a focus within the sermon, which some interpret differently – some as a pause for impact, a sigh for reflection both audibly and or physically, but mostly in my observation as emphasis or significance. I thought about Brian’s sermon most of the day and into Monday. My mind wandered to music and how aligned I am with God, my emotions, my feelings, and my thoughts when I come across a particularly special and well executed song or piece of music. This leads me to the reason for my post today.
What does this mean? For most of us in terms of biblical meaning and intent, which aren’t always the same by the way, it is Hebrew for “Glory to the Lord” and things similar. Take glory and add a healthy dose of Leonard Cohen and he created a song titled “Hallelujah” for people to enjoy and consider. Snagging a timeless song and shredding, stealing, chopping, or otherwise raping it isn’t uncommon in music history. Some say that’s what has happened in this case. I’m not so sure.
With no small measure of irony Cohen did not make the song famous. I’d humbly submit Jeff Buckley instead deserves the credit for putting this ballad forth for us to really dig deep and search. As is too often the case, the death of a person before their perceived natural twilight years tends to showcase their work in ways they rarely enjoy before mortality. The more you delve into Jeff the darker things seem to get. At one point, I simply stopped. I backed up and asked myself, “does it matter how flawed he was, or rather how his passion impacts me in the here and now?” Buckley’s version of Hallelujah, especially the version nearly 7 minutes long, tends to be pained. At a minimum it is heartfelt. I can feel stress, joy, wishing, pain, begging, longing, and maybe even some lament within his voice. The strain alone in some notes, which were well within his range by the way, has me interpreting those sounds as a lifeline direct to the Lord.
Some believe this song isn’t Christian. Some believe far worse. I’ve read and listened to people say it is perverse and unfit for Christian consumption. Contrary, I read a review in “Curator Magazine” that seemed to hold a similar idea to my own. Cohen trickled in some theology and made a good song. Buckley, however, gave the song life.
Cohen pulled straight from some of our favorite teachings about David and Samson. Bathsheba and Delilah are no accidental happenstance. Triumph and great fall are both things relegated to being human. Sex and the feelings we have before, during, and after are joys God gave us. Our longing for our soul’s alignment with another in love and often that loss are both beautiful and tragic. Cohen’s version has more verses, as he ended his song with contempt. Buckley came in with only five verses and concentrated on intimacy, hurt, love, and with each verse you can feel his contact with God in Hallelujah as he sings with his heart more than his wind.
He’s just a man. A flawed, pathetic, beautiful, and talented sinner. Each time I play this version I feel every emotion I have within me. I’m compelled to drop to my knees in prayer. Is this not Grace?
Here are the lyrics to this version of the song “Hallelujah” Cohen wrote as Buckley recorded it. The video of his recording performance is below. The next time you aren’t in sync with the Almighty I suggest a return to this music. As for those who say this song isn’t Christian? I don’t think they paid this music the full compliment it deserves and I’d encourage them to listen again. Again, and again, and again, until it sinks in. When you find music like this, savor it. Find a sunny warm spot, close your eyes, and play this over and over and over. If you don’t smile and cry you’re missing out on something God has shaped for us all…
Well 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?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Well 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 her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah