the holy or the broken hallelujah.

I wrote this post a while back, but I reworked it a bit for church this last Sunday and thought I would post the new version here. I cut out the intro for church, so, I think it suffices to say that the post is about David Bazan’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ I’d love to talk more about the song, so if you have thoughts leave a comment or email me!

I hope you enjoy the new version.

/i 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 4th, the 5th, the minor fall, the major lift/the baffled king composing hallelujah/

I can’t recall hearing a version of this song that doesn’t begin with this same opening line. This beautiful, poetic description of a baffled King David composing what could only be described as ‘Hallelujah’.  This idea resonates in me because in a way I relate to it.

There seems to me to be an undercurrent of redemption and beauty under all there is. Too frequently, I feel disconnected from this redemption and beauty, and attempting to reach out and touch it by choice often feel like a sure way to miss it, but there are countless times when, without expecting it, I have been struck by an overwhelming sense of this beautiful secret hidden in all reality. At times, I try to point out the places where this redemption and beauty appear to me so that I can share it somehow, so that maybe others can experience the feeling I had when I unintentionally uncovered buried treasure. Usually these attempts are feeble and misguided, and yet somehow there are times, be it a preaching moment, or when something I’ve written has been a means of grace to someone else, or even just through a conversation with a friend, when I’ve been able to be a part of composing hallelujah. There is never a moment, during my part in this, where I could be described as anything other than baffled, and so this understanding of the baffled composing the very essence of hallelujah reminds me that this is the nature of things, even if it is mysterious and unquantifiable and strange.

/she broke your crown and cut your hair/she tied you to her kitchen chair/and from your lips she drew the hallelujahs/

/you say i took the name in vain/well i don’t even know the name/and if i did/well, really, what’s it to you?/

And yet, for all of these moments and discoveries, overwhelming doubt is a part of my life as frequently as, and at times, it seems, more frequently than faith. We’ve all been crushed and had our ‘glory’ taken from us. Perhaps it was due to the betrayal or failure of those we loved, perhaps it was caused when we lost that which we cherished, or perhaps it was one of the many other kinds of pain that can come our way. It’s so easy to lose that which makes us feel like ourselves, to forget who we are or to have sudden moments where we realize we never knew. Life constantly seems to throw things at us that break our crown, that leave us powerless, and that take the very hallelujahs from our lips, leaving us empty and without hope.

In these moments, I often rage at a God I feel I hardly know. I kick against the absence and darkness and loneliness that so often seem to be the hallmarks of my life, including my relationship with Jesus. Yet at times, it seems that these moments of darkness lead to a brokenness which, while I can’t articulate why, I sense may be my only hope for redemption.

/cuz there’s a blaze of light in every word/it does not matter which you heard/the holy or the broken hallelujah/

It seems the prosperity gospel most peddle on television and in books speaks of faith as if it is supposed to be an answer to our problems. We’ll be happy and wealthy and free from stress and pain. If it hasn’t worked this way it just means we don’t have enough faith. Once we get rid of that last little bit of sin, once we learn to pray with a heart of faith, all those problems go away. Yet it would seem to me that a life where we were constantly happy and wealthy and free from stress and pain would leave us shallow and empty. Although, with that said, the pain of this world is unevenly distributed, and to attempt to answer it with a glib “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” type philosophy on life is full of holes. Pain is a mystery. And yet somehow, the only hope for making sense of it is that somehow it is in fact a part of our redemption. God has never explained to us why we suffer, why we are allowed to continue hurting, why children are allowed to pay so dearly for nothing. And yet, the understanding that Jesus is God means that while God doesn’t tell us why suffering happens, he sanctified it as holy by coming down amongst our suffering and questioning and tears, joining us on the cross and saying to all who hurt, “Me too.” I don’t know how it works, and I avoid suffering as much as anyone I know, but somehow it really doesn’t matter whether or not we hear “the holy or the broken hallelujah,” because each is brimming with redemption.

Yet, while I write this, hoping for it to be true, I must admit that my suffering and, even more, the suffering of others, often makes it hard for me to believe.

However, that often isn’t the greatest threat to my faith. Of all the things that make it hard for me to believe there is truth in the Gospel, none strike a deadlier blow than my own life.

/i did my best, it wasn’t much/i could not feel so i tried to touch/i told the truth, i did not 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… Hallelujah… Hallelujah/

The greatest argument I know against the transforming power of the Good News is my own seeming inability to be transformed. I fuck up so constantly. I hurt those I love, I am petty and selfish and lazy, I consistently cooperate with darkness and evil as opposed to Light, as opposed to the Kingdom.

And that is why it often makes me cry when Bazan cries out, with what feels to me as vulnerability and desperation: /And even though it all went wrong I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah/. Because this is my only hope, that for all the miserable mistakes I make, for all the ugliness I unleash on those around me, for all the times I allow materialism and selfishness to keep me from doing the right thing, that it might be enough when I stand before the Lord of Song to simply cry out “Hallelujah” in my brokenness. To sing out, with my woefully inadequate singing voice, the broken hallelujah.

It strikes me as I write this that perhaps my theology is just a theology of wishful thinking. Maybe I’m just hoping against hope that there might be a place in the Kingdom for someone as screwed up as me. But perhaps it’s ‘too good not to be true,’ to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. Maybe a God who truly knows us intimately understands that while the Gospel is madness, it is even crazier to expect anyone to become a part of the Kingdom if it costs any more than a broken, often half-hearted hallelujah, because for most of us, when we are honest, a broken, half-hearted hallelujah is all we have to offer.
For my sake, I sure as hell hope that’s enough.

David Bazan


1 Response to “the holy or the broken hallelujah.”

  1. 1 Sheryl
    May 22, 2009 at 5:36 am

    As always I love what you write amazing every time I ready this no matter how many times that is

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