Recently, I have noticed that a number of friends have posted links to a new cover of the Leonard Cohen song, HALLELUJAH. The Christian band, CLOVERTON has done a lovely version of this beloved song and many have been touched anew by it. I listened to the lyrics carefully, noted the beautiful instrumentation and felt the comfort that was promised in the video description. Still, later that evening, I found myself searching for one of the many versions of the song that Cohen himself recorded.

Although I seriously considered it, something kept me from hitting the SHARE button on my Facebook page.  It wasn’t that the young musicians had Christianized and changed the wording of the gritty story of David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah, and our own  experiences of love and betrayal. Having been a long time Cohen fan, something tells me that the re-direction of the lyrics, in itself, wouldn’t bother a man whose performance style is fluid and unique, re-incarnatiing each song as he performs it.

“What is bothering me?” I wondered, listening again and again to the Cloverton version and older recordings by a number of artists. It was only when I found a live recording of Cohen singing the song himself that it hit me.

The lyrics did not need to be changed.

The Christmas version of the song tells the story of a God of love who became one of us in order to save us. It is one distinct and beloved version of of the story of  “faithfulness even unto death” and our discovery that we are a part of that story.

Watch the ClLOVERTON CHRISTMAS VERSION of Leonard Cohen ‘s HALLELUJAH

In contrast, Cohen’s version tells a tale of faith, love, and passion from a different perspective. We hear of David, who plays before the Lord yet betrays his soul because a woman bathes on a nearby rooftop. Delilah steals Samson’s strength and purity of heart along with his hair.   We are reminded that their story is all too often our own: vulnerability, innocence, and purity of heart are ripped open and shredded… leaving behind a devastating  aloneness.  And still… from the depths of that pain, from the raw emotion of the story which is life’s story, an Hallelujah remained. When faith remains, after innocence is gone, it is a force to be reckoned with.

David, who was the model for the the Messianic hopes of  his people, and Samson, whose faithfulness to God ended in destruction, still managed to praise God, all-too-human and utterly destroyed, but still believing.

I am reminded of the oft sung words, “love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah'”, and instantly think of the babe in the manger who grew up and was nailed to a tree because of his fierce love, with the Hallelujah of trust and belief still on his cracking and dry lips. I am reminded of all those who I have known who were devastated by love and loss but yet kept on loving and believing, despite it all.

From the beginning, it was a dangerous story. We tend to forget that, because we have heard it so often that it has become tame to us.  I am quite sure that each step of the way, from the betrothal to the fleeing into Egypt, was full of anxiety. Nothing seemed to be going right. I sometimes think we underestimate Joseph’s role in protecting this woman and child given to him by God. Joseph, this descendant of David, untied the knots which had wrapped themselves around his ancestor’s soul. To leave everything behind as a madman pursued his newborn child, to understand that other children were dying and other fathers grieving and yet to persevere in love… I am pretty sure that was one of those moments of a cold and broken Hallelujah.There are few tidings of comfort and joy in that tale.

So I am not disturbed by the Christmas version, sung by young people who tell us, with love and reverence, the story of their faith.

However, I think that story had already been told, in the original lyrics, by a man who understood the kind of the love which began in a manger and ended on a Cross. Even with all of the darkness in Cohen’s version, with faith and trust spliced by the cost of love, there is hope and resurrection, as we all keep singing, years and years after he wrote the words,  “and even though it all went wrong I stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah… Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”  Leonard Cohen London Version Hallelujah   Emmanuel… God-with-us… Hallelujah

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