Leonard Cohen Grace and Brokenness

Rain has wiped out the Fourth of July; therefore, I thought I would write a reflection on Leonard Cohen, Canadian composer and performer.

Darkness  Storm Clouds over Lake Chatuge

Darkness Storm Clouds over Lake Chatuge

I was first introduced to Leonard by Matt Fox in one of his lectures from the first ChristPath Seminar in California earlier this year. Cohen has spent some time in an ashram in India, I believe he said. The song that Matt analyzed was Halleluia which since its composition in the 80s has been performed by many artists.

The lyrics went through many renditions and many verses ended up as balls of paper on a hotel room floor. Leonard obviously struggled with putting his thoughts into word—a problem common to mystics. I am calling him a mystic because his lyrics see through to the ultimate realities. BTW, Cohen is still performing his music.

Shortly after Matt’s introduction, we attended a concert of The Tenors (formerly known as The Canadian Tenors) at Symphony Hall in Atlanta. Lo and behold, I was thrilled toward the end of the concert when they sang their signature song—Halleluia which is on their album “The Canadian Tenors.”

The most complete lyrics can be found at http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/hallelujah.html. Most performances do not include the following verses:

There was a time when you let me know

What’s really going on below

But now you never show it to me, do you?

And remember when I moved in you

The holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah


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


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 Halleluja.

The first unperformed verse above is like the Song of Songs. We are shy about singing of passionate love and yet the introduction of the “holy dove” to a lovemaking scene is really profound. All involved, including the Holy Dove, draw one breath—Halleluia!

There is irony in the next verse. Called to love we still have to shoot the one who outdrew us. A sad commentary but we can still sing a cold, broken Halleluia.

The “name in vain” may be a reference to Leonard’s Jewish roots (His father was a rabbi.) The point is that Jews do not mention the name of the Most High. But there is light in every word.

Go to the link above and read all the verses. What do the lyrics say to you?

I am intrigued by the lyrics and their meaning. I listen to The Tenor version to begin my day. The haunting blend of grace and darkness in the lyrics speaks of living with paradox—grace and brokenness, grace and sin as in the allusions to David and Sampson. Isn’t that what our lives are all about—coming to live comfortably with both joy and sorrow, light and darkness, grace and sin, grace and brokenness?

The Halleluia beat goes on. This morning I was reading “The Contemplative Outreach Newsletter.” Speaking of “How I Continue to Know the Mystery of God,” Father Carl Arico referenced another Cohen hit—Anthem (http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/anthem.html). Listen to these words:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

Go to the link and read all the lyrics.

War is here. In fact, we live in perpetual war but the Dove will be caught again. Birth is betrayed and marriages spent. There is no drum but we will come to Love as refugees. But, all this is how the light gets in. In joy and sorrow, grace and brokenness we can stand “before the Lord of Song with nothing on [our] tongues but Halleluia! There is Light in the darkness.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen for helping me understand life in its depths.

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