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Hallelujah–Thomas Casey in America: The National Catholic Weekly

December 21, 2010

imageAmerica: The National Catholic Weekly has an interesting article by the Jesuit scholar Thomas G. Casey, who is the director of the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies in Rome and professor of philosophy at the Gregorian University. He examines what is perhaps the most recognizable song of the past decade,  Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. (Below is the audio only YouTube of k.d. lang’s performance at this year’s Winter Olymics)

Consider this thought from Casey:

One reason that “Hallelujah” appeals is that it gives voice—and song—to the spiritual hunger of millions who find it difficult or impossible to identify with orthodox expressions of their longings. This song expresses their human fragility and their desire to be released from the shallowness of our age, which offers substandard spiritual fare. They search; they desire to reconnect with the transcendent, even though their search is often handicapped by an astonishing spiritual inarticulateness.

 

How did a song with so many biblical references (none of which refer to the New Testament) become ubiquitous? How did a lyrical, slow-moving tune become popular in an era when aggressive percussion and insistent drum-beats power pop songs? Why has the song been used to create atmosphere and mood in the soundtracks of many movies and TV shows? Why can’t people get enough of it? . . .

There is always a crack, even in the midst of profound suffering. At the beginning of “Hallelujah,” King David, the composer of psalms in praise of God, has happily discovered a secret chord with which to give God joy. But soon the king succumbs to temptation:

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.

The reference to David is mixed up with allusions to Samson and Delilah, as the song goes on to tell how

She broke your throne and she cut your hair.

. . . It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

When we find ourselves in desolation, we ask: How can we stay alive when we have kissed death? Is faith still possible? Has love lost its savor and sweetness? David, Samson and all of us are vulnerable, exposed to the chill of a spiritual wasteland. Yet we need not surrender to despair; instead, we can find our way forward to a new way of hoping and praising God, though one devoid of sugary sweetness and false romanticism. We no longer come before God with full arms, but only with empty hands:

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

 

Full article: America Magazine

Categories: Art, Quotations, Video
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