The broken Hallelujah

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

                       – Leonard Cohen

I am fascinated by the broken Hallelujah. I’m fascinated by a lot of what Leonard Cohen has written, but especially the broken Hallelujah.

I’m not certain what Mr. Cohen meant when he wrote these lyrics. He is a gifted and enigmatic writer who I’m not sure always knows what he writes. Like any great artist, he’s reaching for something and he doesn’t always know what. This is when the most profound and prophetic things get written; when someone’s reach goes beyond their grasp.

The holy Hallelujah makes sense. Most Hallelujahs have always tried to be holy. It’s our best praise — the Hallelujah Chorus being the pinnacle. Hallelujah has found its way into a good deal of writing and hymnody, but as far as I know, it’s almost always attempting to be holy. That’s why a broken Hallelujah stands out. And it stands out as being right; perhaps even more right than the holy one, at least for now.

Jesus sang a broken Hallelujah from the cross: “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). “My God, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34)?” would have been His broken Hallelujah.

For there, those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? (Psalm 137:3-4)

This speaks of the children of Israel in captivity, but it speaks for us all here on earth because here we are singing a strange song in a strange land. We do not belong here. We are just passing through. Our Hallelujahs are all broken — all glorious. They are gloriously splintered — fragmented pieces of shard held together by love. Our broken Hallelujahs show forth the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ that is holding us together from inside, and bringing Him glory with every singing of our song — not the glory of perfection, but the glory of brokenness.

I would assume that virtually all our Hallelujahs here on earth are broken to a certain extent, because we are imperfect people with imperfect praise. But God receives it. He welcomes it, because our broken Hallelujahs speak of His grace. They remind Him of His mercy and His love which has made our broken Hallelujahs possible.

And He knows that we will soon be singing perfect Hallelujahs in eternity. Holy Hallelujahs — no longer broken, but maybe … just maybe … with a strain of brokenness still there, just so we remember forever what He went through to save us.

To all our wonderful Canadian friends, thank you for sharing Leonard Cohen with us, along with or other favorite Canadian, Bruce Cockburn — both familiar with broken Hallelujahs. Click on Leonard’s picture for a wonderful live performance of “Hallelujah” in London, England.

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13 Responses to The broken Hallelujah

  1. Carole in Midland says:

    Since the first time I heard this song, I have been hauntingly drawn to it; it evokes such deep emotions that I otherwise don’t allow myself to explore, much less feel…I see myself in it because I’m broken. If I am shattered, how can my hallelujahs be anything more than the sound that arises from a million jagged pieces? Still, like Job, I say, “Yet will I serve you, Lord.” And broken is the state I must reach for Him to begin to remake me.

    If there ever were dreams
    so lofty and noble
    They were my dreams at the start
    And hope for life’s best were the hopes
    That I harbor down deep in my heart
    But my dreams turned to ashes
    And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss
    So I wrapped it all in the rags of my life
    And laid it at the cross.
    All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
    But he made something beautiful of my life (Bill Gaither)

  2. Bob Hofferber says:

    The funny part is that particular verse sounds like it was a rebuke to those who would say Leonard shouldn’t be using a “Christian” word like “Hallelujah” I’ve always thought that verse was a little tongue in cheek:
    You say I took the name in vain
    I don’t even know the name
    But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
    There’s a blaze of light
    In every word
    It doesn’t matter which you heard
    The holy or the broken Hallelujah

    In any case, it’s one of my favorite songs and Cohen is one of my favorite songwriters

  3. Frank U says:

    ‘every sing breath we draw is- Hallelujah!’

  4. Michael says:

    Did you know that the word Hallelujah is only in the book of Revelation chapter 19 and it is only in there 4 times.

  5. If you really listen, about 5:23 into the song that He references the Holy Spirit in the feminine. He calls what was in the past called an it (KJV) and other bibles who refer to the Holy Spirit as a male is not a male at all but a female. So Hallelujah indeed and I was called crazy. This gentleman points it out distinctly, because no one is more broken than a mother!

  6. “…and even though it all went wrong,
    I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
    with nothing – nothing on my tongue
    but Hallelujah…”

    The documentary film “Alive Inside” is a joyous exploration of music’s ability to reawaken the deepest part of our humanity. Follow social worker Dan Cohen as he fights a broken healthcare system to return a deep sense of life to those suffering from memory loss.
    Here’s the trailer for the film “Alive Inside”:

    • I agree Bob, because the spirit always lives and ‘that’ child is always in there! I believe it is called stimulating the spirit to bring it to remembrance a beautiful thing!

  7. I’m curious, I really don’t know…
    Do replies to posts that are several months old ever get read or noticed?
    Well, if you happen to run across this one, I remembered this specific Catch when, today, I happened upon this beautiful rendition of “The Broken Hallelujah” in Hebrew.
    May you be blessed as you listen – Shalom! 🙂

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