I had a facebook chat the other night wherein we are all lamenting the over-exposure of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, culminating in kd laing's performance at the Olympics ("how is that song appropriate for hte Olympics in any way?" "It's a Canadian national treasure", etc.). Anyway, her version sounded different from my favorite by Jeff Buckley so I looked up the lyrics after my facebook chat. In the comment section, I found this comment that was so beautiful, I decided to post it here (with many kudos to the author). This, along with a listening hiatus, will restore my love for Hallelujah.
In my most familiar version of this song, I see so much more than either blasphemy or lust.
As someone who finds the Bible the be all and end all of faith and literature, I do not take offense at this song at all. The imagery and metaphor are rich and the experience is true.
[Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair,
she broke your throne, she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the halleujah]
It begins with David's temptation. David, whom the Lord called a man with a perfect heart before God. Human. All humanity fights with temptation. This is not something to judge or or find fault with. It is pure, Biblical, and actual fact. Cohen uses David's perfect heart to display all humanities' experience. What was David? He was a worshipper of God and he was a King.
Being tied to a kitchen chair is not some s&m image--it is the breaking of the most lofty and bringing him down to the level of everyman. But the Samson image expresses how that same transgression creates a breach before God. You are not in the same position before God after a fall as you were at first. You lose your throne. You lose your glory.
But that is okay, because the throne and the glory belong to God, and it is only in our weakness that we look up and find Him. He is the One to whom the cold broken Hallelujah is sent. It is the cry of repentance, not maybe at the sin as it could and should be, because we are ignorant of Him , but at the breach between you and your God. All humans were made to partake of the beauty of human love, but if we rest in it and don't put God's love first, our Hallelujah never reaches the Holy. It remains cold and broken.
As for the verse about the dove, we have cleaned up religion to this place where it is unrecognizable. Have you ever read the Bible? It does not disguise the human love at all! It reveals it. Totally. Human love is supposed to be comparable to God's love. Human love is a metaphor for God's love. God wants to have a relationship so close to people that He dwells inside of them. Human love is able to reflect that. And it should, but it doesn't because we had, historically, made all sexuality to be secretive and shameful. Then we liberated ourselves and made every kind of pleasure both acceptable and sanctioned. It isn't. Not by God. But there is still a love between a man and woman that God respects, because it echoes and resounds His love. There is no shame in Hallelujah for that. Each one emphasizes and clarifies the other.
Our lives are are a musical composition of cycles and resonances of that same hallelujah, your relationship with God determines which hallelujah will triumph. Even Samson's being cut-off was not permanent. When his hair grew back, his power with God was restored, the original contract still stood. But, it cost him his life to know it. It costs us our lives to obtain a Holy Hallelujah. I think what we believe we know of Cohen himself, is that for him the Holy hallelujah was unreachable, and he contented himself so far with the broken, with the music and human love satisfying that cry. But there can never be a Holy Hallelujah without first a broken one. But most people don't want to be broken first.