You know how it is when a song gets kind-of ruined for you from being overplayed? It was a few years ago now, not long after Alexandra Burke repopularised the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah, that it happened for me, with that song. My daughter, who was busy doing her singing exams and preparing for various school concerts and festivals, chose it as one of her pieces and it was all we ever seemed to hear, being sang at the top of her lungs all around the house day and night. Or on our so-called “peaceful” walks in the countryside. In fact anywhere and everywhere. For months. Actually, it spilled out into years as she just seems to have to hear the opening bar and she’s off again, to this day. So for a long time, whenever it came on in my hearing, I would have to dash to switch it off. My husband would virtually run from the house shouting “Noooo” (in fact, we both would, in comic unison) and plunge his head into a bucket of water to block off his ears…OK I exaggerate but you get the idea. We’d had enough of it.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I never quite got around to really examining the words, apart from that ear-worm refrain; until yesterday, that is, when something made me curious (after, guess what, it came up in that way it does) when, for once, I didn’t reach for the volume button.
Only then could I perceive its absolute perfection as a “hymn” for our times (just make sure you read all the verses, not just the abridged version that is so often sung). I gather it was a deeply personal song that took several laborious years to write but isn’t that the real beauty; that what is most personal, heart-rendered and gritty is, generally, also most universal? Yet “Its a cold and its a broken halleluja” are not lyrics of despair, however Cohen intended them (art has this way of birthing through us, as its vehicle, only to become its own “person” with an agenda all its own too). Far from it…they help reunite us with ourselves.
Because we arn’t pristine and our spiritual aspect isn’t this polished-up, high-note thing kept for Sunday best (in fact I dislike that word “spiritual” for the way it seems to shut the door on so many people’s ears for sounding too much like something separate from this world when, really, it’s an intrinsic part of everything). Divinity is a perfectly imperfect thing that we get to wear every day and we should be getting it out of the closet and doing that right now; it’s what this up-gearing of eras is all about, so we can evolve our world into a whole other paradigm to what we’ve been through before.
When we regard our divine aspect as something pristine, we hold onto the belief system that says that we have to be perfect before we even allow ourselves to come close to it, to touch it with idle curiosity, to imagine ourselves to be associated with it, to try it on and, yes, to become it in the flesh…and so, most of the time, we simply don’t go there. It becomes like that “thing” you’re always going to do “one day” when the “time is just right” and all your “circumstances are just so”…and so, like the sunday best you never wear, it stays in the closet, never even looked at. What Cohen did to bring that idea crashing down into the harsh, messy reality of our world was imperfectly beautiful. No wonder (a certain unsung part of) so many people seemed to gather to his lyrics like moths to a flame; hungrily, though they hardly know why. From the recording studio to the school concert repertoire, it must be one of the most repeated songs of our era.
So my perfectly imperfect twist in the tale was that all that holding of those lyrics at-bay meant they were there for me, like an unopened gift left behind after the tree has gone, when I needed to most pay attention to them; perhaps to share these few words.
Akin to everyone else, I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and yet I know myself to be divine, which is the knowledge that has upgraded my experience of everything in this world, and then some, and I wish only for everyone else to know this about themselves, too….however “cold” and “broken” they may seem. We are all holy and realising this is what makes us whole again.
I’m certainly not some cookie-cutter parent who treats every utterance from a child’s mouth as manna from heaven and who gushes praise and encouragement at every turn. For the record, I’ve done plenty of that when its felt from the heart…but my well-rounded daughter declares she is oddly relieved that we’ve always been very “real” and a little bit “irreverent” as parents; it’s what makes us feel most solid and trustworthy to her, in every possible kind of circumstance. She’s got over the teasing about that song…and she still sings it anyway; I expect it will play at her wedding (possibly as part of the humourous speech given by her father; he’s been mentally planning it for years)! And I’m so very far from perfect in just so many other respects that I would be here all day listing them all if I tried but I’ve come to love them all as uniquely me, knowing them to be part of my divinity in human form…and that’s the point. In fact that’s the whole point, for every single one of us. Well, hallelujah.
This evening, my eye fell upon a very favourite piece of music on Spotify that I hadn’t played for a long time so I did. Its Jocelyn Pook’s “Desh” (Homeland), a score written for dancer Akram Khan. First track up (of course…though I had forgotten this), a very different “Hallelujah” but oh so beautiful (described by one critic, for The Times, as “so beautiful it could break your heart” ). The same goes for the rest of the score, which is exactly the kind of cross cultural musical experience I seem to be drawn to, liberally mixing sounds recorded in the streets of Bangladesh with lyrical chants and hymns, reminding the listener that it’s all the same stuff, really….all just expressions of our shared humanity. You can listen to it here if you’re curious. If you do find it, make sure to listen to Ave Maria off the same album, its one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard and never fails to send me off into rapture.