What hallelujah means to me

I’ve been listening to “Hallelujah” incessantly lately – not from Handel’s Messiah, but rather The Good Lovelies‘ cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

It’s ethereal, mesmerizing, uplifting, soul-searching. A prayer, a plea, a homage – it’s pain and pleasure and very, very human.

I went hunting for Leonard Cohen’s original, and came across an interview he gave where he talks about depression, and its impact on his music. He said something that struck me: “Suffering doesn’t produce good work – good work is produced in spite of suffering, as a response, as a victory over suffering.”

A victory over suffering.

As I sing to Hibou, to teach her, to please her, to distract her, to soothe her, sometimes just to overpower her penetrating complaints, I think about this. About how we must celebrate. We MUST celebrate. We must acknowledge victory over suffering, we must capture and rejoice in the beauty, the awe of life. Because it’s too hard not to. Life is too hard when we don’t.

Cohen is right – it’s a cold, a lonely, a broken hallelujah. But it’s still a hallelujah. When we praise, no matter what, no matter how, it’s still praising. It’s still acknowledging, celebrating – even when we’re on our knees and begging, face covered in tears and pressed against the floor.

Anyone who’s been there – wet, cold, huddled, terrified, alone – if you’ve been there, then you know that there is always an after. An after when it gets better. An after when we can get up, when we can sing, when we can celebrate. When we can produce good work.

They’re both human, you see. The broken moments, and the whole.

A good friend of mine is discovering what it is to see the middle of the night with a new baby. To see night after night, sore and tired and lonely. My husband is struggling with seeing the middle of the day with a busy but boring job, chores and whining and more work to come home to. To see day after day, frustrated and angry and overwhelmed.

And I – I am grateful. I am grateful, in as many moments as I can notice, of how I’ve been there. And now I’m not. I may be again, but now, now I’m not.

I’ll sing a different Hallelujah in a few days, my annual Messiah practice and community concert coming up. It’s so very different, such a different form of praise – yet, to me, the same. It reaches the same place within, where the dark and the light are one and the same.

“I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I 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.”

We all pass that way, or this, somehow. Some of us less, some of us more. Some of us celebrating just a little harder, a little louder than others, recognizing the victory for what it is. All of us trying our best. Some of us singing hallelujah.

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1 comment so far

  1. Lynn on

    Lovely and well said.


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