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June 1, 2007 / Drgnslyr

Composing Hallelujah

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue
but Hallelujah!

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard those lines from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. But I do remember that it left me numb. Its religious imagery, and that of many other lines in the song/poem, was as close to a “come to Jesus” moment as I have ever felt, including those that occured inside a church – those buildings designated as God-meeting places.

In a rush – a blinding, tear-stained rush that dropped me to my knees – I saw my whole life’s religious experience: the training as a child to believe that God was real and deserving of our lives, my failed attempts to embrace a Christian lifestyle, the hurt over the Church’s multiple betrayals, and lastly, my withdrawal from the label “christian” because I just cannot be hypocritical about having that faith any longer.

You see, I really want to have faith – even a Christian faith. And there are still parts of it I can embrace.  Maybe what I really want to have is worship. I long for some worthy target of my devotion and love. It seems that target ought to be God, but there are so many impediments, which are not God-made at all. Chief among them is my guilt over having failed as “a Christian”.  For all my shortcomings, I know that God is out there and is worthy of my worship. If only I could find a way to give it to Him.

Nearly every time since then, when the song appears on my play-list, I stop and let his words wash over me again. I relive that first experience and wonder if it will happen again. And most times, I have to clean the tear stains from my glasses before I can continue on doing whatever it was I stopped.

But today something strange happened. I looked up the words in print because I heard an unfamiliar verse, and found that the core idea I had about the song… was wrong.

I thought the opening stanza went like this:

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played to please 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 battle came composing Hallelujah!

Now some might argue that “the battle came” doesn’t fit with the whole of the song/poem, and maybe they are right. But with my Sunday school teachings of David as the warrior/poet, as a man who struggled against lust and its consequences, etc., it did not seem out of context to me.

It was this recognition that composing a Hallelujah of one’s life – that gift of praise, of adoration, of devotion we were made to give our Creator – was a struggle! a battle! I was in awe that Cohen had understood me so well. My respect for him as a poet, already substantial, reached near-god levels. I also, strangely, found a type of forgiveness from the guilt of failing to be the Christian I could have been. To say the least, this song has a most profound impact on me.

The correct words to the last line of the stanza are:

the baffled king composing Hallelujah

Somehow, I don’t think the baffled king could have impacted me … 🙂  So with apologies to Mr. Cohen, I think I will continue to hum ‘the battle came’ and send it on wings as my own Hallelujah.

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2 Comments

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  1. Bill Corrigan / Jun 8 2007 8:27 am

    It is a beautiful song…hauntingly beautiful…

  2. sangreelah / Jun 9 2007 10:49 am

    I wanted to briefly respond to your latest blog entry concerning the HAS (human auditive system) and poetry.

    Because poetry is a property of language, it appears quite randomly and by chance; imagin a scenario in which the poet quoth: “I am entering a soap-bath” and you hear:”I am entering the God-path”, then your aural-misquotation has certainly contributed to enhance the poetry-feature (who cares about meaning, after all). This time it does not seem to me to be the case.

    I am not going to mention how David is a Love-King, not a battle King (no wonder the Saviour himself shared his blood); but he was Love because he had faith, strong faith; he was a King among kings of the Jews; this line is perhaps the most heretic among LC’s work: it suggests (to the suggestionable reader that does not misheard 🙂 ) that secretly the King of the Jews was just David, scared man, little man … baffled … and the beauty of it all is that inspite of everything he could reach the Hallelujah!, the secret hymn of God … and you know why? because he did not need God … poetry was enough and poetry was already within him, within us who are language …

    Your claim to a faith that you lack is perhaps just this craving for poetry that we can easily mistake for God. But, naturally, most probably this is another misconception of my HAS.

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