One of my Christmas gifts this year was the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light. I have always loved the song but didn’t know much about its origins. There are so many versions! Cohen’s original which started it all, but is my least favorite because it’s the least melodic; Jeff Buckley’s which is gorgeous, albeit more sexual (he does some different verses that Cohen had chosen not to include); the one in “Shrek” by Rufus Wainwright that brought the song to national attention; a recent power-ballad performance by Jeff Gutt on “X-Factor,” and many more.
Some interesting facts about the song can be found here. Have to mention the wikipedia article, of course. And the seven recorded verses are written here. Rumor has it Cohen wrote at least 15 verses, though one account said 15 PAGES of verses; it’s the stuff of legends.
There’s even a Christmas version that is a Christian rewrite with good intentions; I appreciate the heart behind it, but aside from the lines about the cross, it misses the point. What makes “Hallelujah” a powerful song is that it’s not about perfect-tidy but all about imperfect-gritty which ends in the most beautiful way:
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
Jesus attached Himself to the uterine walls of a peasant teenage girl and spent His first night on earth in a not-sanitized animal feed trough. As a man, He wore sandals and walked around on roads covered with animal dung. He died a violent, bloody death. Born, lived, and died in mess. I can rattle off those facts but the mind still boggles, especially with the additional truth that He wants to make a home in my very messy heart.
As I begin this new year with a fresh calendar of fresh possibilities that will soon become spattered with the messiness of life, I want to sing out my broken Hallelujah in praise to God; He’s the reason I breathe, write, and sing…laugh, cry, and scream…desire, hope, and wait.