Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Broken Hallelujah

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

                        - - Leonard Cohen (1984)

I like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" better than any other version I've ever heard.  I've heard a couple of different versions where someone (because it's in the public domain and because they liked the tune but not the words) has put different words to the music - words that they thought would be more uplifting - and while the new words were more uplifting, something inside me somehow felt like singing other words to it was being (for me) ... disloyal or wrong at a core level.

Okay, part of it is because I'm a songwriter and I know what it's like when someone takes your song and puts words in it that aren't there. It's like someone pronouncing your name wrong. Every. Time. It grates. It just does. 

But most of it (in keeping with the whole author thing) is that the original song has a message that a lot of people miss. It's about the broken hallelujah.  

Photo "Sad Woman Sitting Alone In Room"
courtesy of FrameAngel at
As most everyone knows, the word hallelujah means "praise the Lord."  Cohen was inspired by King David's story of brokenness  -  how he fell into adultery and lost his throne over it - and still worshiped God.  David's hallelujah was a broken one. But it was a hallelujah nonetheless.

Something I heard at a worship conference years ago may help me explain what I mean.  Internationally known worship leader Bob Fitts came to lead worship at our church once, over 10 years ago, first by talking about what worship is and isn't, and then by doing it and inviting us to join in.  In his talk, he was saying that all worship is precious to God, but that the worship that arises out of our brokenness is the kind where He draws closest to us, whether we are aware of it or not. That we choose to worship Him during those times, when our hearts are breaking, touches His heart. It takes far more courage to worship God when one's world is caving in than it does when everything is going right. Especially when the worship is not asking for anything ... except possibly for an awareness of His presence.

Hence the broken hallelujah. I've been there - broken, I mean - ... many times. One important time comes to mind especially today, the 3rd anniversary of our family being informed of my daughter's death the previous night.  It's been those kinds of times when I've reached up like a drowning person only to grasp nothing but emptiness, when I have felt alone and frightened by the intensity of my emotions, when I have depleted my strength and my ability to withstand the harsh, accusing voices in my mind, that God has reached out to me and in love, mercy and grace, reminded me that He is with me and that he really loves me. His love is so great - and the worship - born from trust in that love - rises from me even through the pain. It's a broken hallelujah ... gurgling up from blubbering lips and a throat that feels swollen and choked, sobbing past hot tears and a broken heart.

Here's the secret though.  It's both a broken AND a holy hallelujah.  That's how I see Leonard Cohen's message, even if he might never have intended it that way. His original message was that the holy and the broken hallelujahs were of equal value - and in a way, yes they are. But the broken ones are holy in themselves, maybe even the most holy ones

There's a blaze of light 
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah -

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Of all the lies ever perpetrated by organized religion, perhaps the most insidious one is that we are unworthy worms, vile creatures, wicked and repugnant to God. Intended to spark humility and the fear (i.e., respect) of God, this idea of wretchedness has been the enemy's number one tool to incapacitate believers around the world for centuries! It is a killer. It kills faith. 

The logic goes like this: "I'm so unworthy, I don't deserve to lift my face toward the heavens, and God surely wouldn't listen to such a filthy rotten failure like me. Even if I dared to pray, there's no way He would ever consider saying yes to me because I'm so ugly and dirty to Him.  And even though Jesus has made me clean and acceptable because of the cross, well, that's still not enough because I see all too well what I'm like, and I just know that there's no way He'll ever listen to little old me. After all, just look at what He had to go through to redeem me!"

It's a cleverly devised lie, because it is mixed with truth. Yes, Jesus went to the cross and endured such a horrible death to redeem us, but not because we are worthless worms.  He went there because He values us so greatly that He would do anything to prove to us how much we are worth to Him!

Remember the story of the ugly duckling, the cygnet (swan chick) who was hatched in a family of ducks and never felt good enough?  That is a metaphor - a symbolic picture - for us.  The reality was that the "ugly duckling" was not a duckling after all, but a swan, regardless of how unworthy he felt. Keep that picture in your mind.  Not the taunts of the so-called siblings, not even his own reflection in the water compared to those of the 'brothers and sisters', not the revulsion that he saw in the eyes of the adult ducks, changed the fact that he was a swan - destined for far greater, born to beauty and majesty. The day he knew his worth was the day he heard the swans calling him from on high, and caught a glimpse of his reflection (now transformed) in the water just inside the broken ice prison he had made for himself.

That's us.  Born to beauty. Worthy.  Valuable.  Loved.  Called.  Yet so many of us still unaware that we are His treasure, that we are the apple of His eye.  We always were.

It makes no difference to its worth whether a diamond is in a crown or in a pigsty.  It's a diamond.  It has intrinsic worth - that is, it has a value that is in and of itself, and isn't dependent on its surroundings.  We are His JEWELS!

Photo "Ring With Stone" courtesy of
Boykung at
Another - and perhaps more meaningful - metaphor is the (modern) story of Rapunzel.  (Even though Grimm wrote the original story [which is AWFUL by the way], I prefer the version that Disney did recently, because it ends WAY better!)  Never mind the romance piece for now - that's a different story to tell.  Let's look at Rapunzel herself: a princess who doesn't know she's a princess. Hear me?  Not only a princess - but one with magical giftings to heal and rejuvenate, but which are used by a selfish, cruel power (Mother Gothel) who pretends to be her mother.  Yet at every turn, this woman belittles her, tells her she is fat, or stupid, or lazy, or demented (crazy).  She uses the girl's bestowed power (expressed through her long, magical hair which must never be cut or it will lose its power - can we see the symbolism of Samson here?) for her own purposes and intends to keep her imprisoned forever.  Gothel builds a culture of shame and mistrust, and yet Rapunzel longs for something more - and eventually is drawn to see the lights that appear every year on her birthday.  For far away, the heartbroken King and Queen lift the lanterns to the skies in her honour every year, hoping that one day she will return to them and take her rightful place.  When Rapunzel sees these lights up close, she feels like she belongs there somehow.  Soon, she puts it all together and realizes that she IS the 'lost princess.'  And knowing who she is changes everything about how she perceives her upbringing; she sees the witch for what she really is.  

That too is us.  We have been sold a bill of goods and we have just accepted those voices (often voices we hear expressed in those old self-hating, self-torturing hymns and the fear-based traditions of the organized church) that tell us that we must be crazy to think that God would hear us, that we are delusional to think that He would care about the little things of our lives, or that He would love us unconditionally and beyond measure.  Or the voices say that yes, God loves us but only if we behave ourselves.  Or that He hears and answers prayer but that if we don't receive answers, then we must be doing it wrong.  

No.  We are the King's sons and daughters.  We are precious to Him, worthy to Him. He dotes on us, and hears our faintest heart's cry because He delights in us.  We cannot offend Him!  We cannot! And why would we want to?  Being aware of a love that great can only produce love in return ... (another post for another time).

Can we grasp this? Is this not good news?  Can we accept that He is far greater and far more loving and accepting and GOOD than we have ever allowed ourselves to dream?  The Word says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think --- so basically, more of every one of those wonderful things (like love, acceptance, and goodness) than we can imagine!  Well I don't know about you, but I can imagine A LOT!  A WHOLE LOT!! If we could conceive of a greater, more loving God than God Himself, would that not mean that the god we have been believing in isn't really God at all?  Because, in order to BE God, He'd have to be so far beyond our capacity to comprehend or imagine that we couldn't think or imagine of anything greater!

Yes.  Yes He has set His love on us.  We have laboured in the sun, but He finds us beautiful, ravishing.  

We are worthy in His sight.  We are. Oh that we might be able to SEE His love - to experience it in our deepest heart - it would transform every moment into something sacred!