The song ‘Hallelujah’ is very high on the list of songs that I love to listen to. The music is sad, and deep, and utterly beautiful, with harmony that draws you in, melts you down, and breaks your heart a little. Sometimes I think the most beautiful things break you a bit. On this earth we don’t have the physical or mental or spiritual capacity to take in all the beauty that even we see here, much less the beauty that we will one day see in the next world.
It wasn’t until I listened to this version that I realised there were two more verses I hadn’t heard before. I must have missed them somehow before. Naturally, if you miss out on the last two verses of a song, especially one like this, it changes the entire sense and feeling, and what you are left with.
Because in the midst of the song, when you’re having a hard day, or a hard week, or a hard life for a while, it can be tempting at times to feel that…
“Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…”
One of the most beautiful aspects of music, of song lyrics, is the utter honesty and vulnerability of those who write them. It takes great courage to delve into the depths of your own heart and pull out everything that’s there, good and bad. It’s one of the reasons that many of us, who are not always songwriters or lyricists or poets or writers, love to connect with what others have written. They manage to say what we wish we could, what we felt on our darkest day, and where we go from there.
The last verse, the one that is so well portrayed in this version I stumbled across tonight, is the one that brings it all round, that takes the darkness and the hurt and the brokenness and brings it back to beauty, to hallelujah.
“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
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”
‘Hallelujah’ is a powerful word. It is joy, and grace, and intensity of feeling, and being awed by something far beyond ourselves. I looked for where it appeared in the Bible, and unsurprisingly it seems to primarily, if not only, appear in the Psalms and in the book of Revelation. The Psalms are music, and depth and intensity of feeling, more heart-searching than many of us have had in a lifetime. And the book of Revelation is the book that I read when I want to be reminded of deeper things than I can feel on this side of heaven, things that are too mighty and too beautiful to express. Visions of white, angels that praise, horses flying along at great speeds, trumpets sounding, and everywhere music – the music of voices, hundreds, thousands, millions, more voices than anyone could possibly count. Voices singing, voices praising, the sound swelling and rising and building until it overcomes you.
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.'” (Revelation 19.6)
May your hallelujah be, not the broken, but the holy.