The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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A Holy and a Broken Hallelujah

‘Things are going to slide, slide in all directions.
Won’t be nothing,
Nothing you can measure anymore.
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned the order of the soul.’

I remember Graham Cray playing Leonard Cohen’s electrifying new song The Future to a group of us who’d gathered, in the early 1990s, to try to re-imagine Christian worship for a changing world. It was exciting and bewildering, tuning in to this poetic, prophetic Canadian voice, and responding with fresh words, sounds, metaphors of our own…

Cohen died this week – a week, coincidentally, in which the word ‘post-truth’ was named by the Oxford Dictionaries as their Word of the Year, following Brexit, Trump et al. He was a Jew, whose ‘deep tribal sense’ of faith (plus an appreciation of other forms of spirituality) invigorated his music, his poetry, his worldview.

‘I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,’ Cohen told the New Yorker in October. ‘It’s there, you can feel it…’

And he seemed able, uniquely, exquisitely, to tap it, and express it, through songs described by Bob Dylan as ‘prayers’. Songs such as the immense Hallelujah, which so poignantly evokes both ‘the holy’ and ‘the broken’ hallelujah in us all, exemplified (in the song) through the creativity of King David.

Cohen’s own creativity was attuned to what Jews call the Bat Kol (or ‘divine voice’). ‘You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time,’ he explained, ‘[though] much of the time you can’t decipher it.’ Instead, perhaps, you listen, intuit, and respond…

The result – songs such as Anthem, whose famously liberating lyric invites you to ‘forget your perfect offering – there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’

As the world indeed slides in all directions, sadly the explosive energy of those early ‘alternative worship’ gatherings I experienced seems to have dissipated. Much of our contemporary corporate worship defaults to a diet of coffee, doughnuts and Coldplay-lite choruses.

But imagine being inspired afresh by the divine voice! What might our responses be? As Cohen sings prayerfully in If It Be Your Will

‘If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you.’

Imagine, then: that our holy, and broken, hallelujahs may yet ring true, post-truth.

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Brian Draper

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