Flowers along a path on a rainy day | Image by Catherine Brozena
This morning, while scrolling endlessly through my Instagram feed, I was struck by a photo posted by a woman in the U.K. whose Instagram account I follow. Her name is Julie Jones and she goes by the moniker of the “Soulful Baker.” Her posts often show the most artfully created baked pies and treats which she makes completely from scratch with utmost mindfulness and beauty.
What’s equally striking about Julie’s feed are the occasional posts and short musings about her “mum,” who is suffering from severe dementia. This morning’s post was one of those, and it really caused an ache in my heart. It reminded me of pictures I used to take of me and my dad, who also suffered from severe dementia before he passed in 2016. In fact, just to look at their faces, you might think my dad and Julie’s mom were sister and brother.
Perhaps the echo of that image is the reason why the rest of my morning unfolded with a strange combination of gratitude for the day and sadness for the brokenness in the world. Taking inspiration from Julie, I fixed myself a delicious slice of carrot cake I had made for Easter and ate it with utter delight for breakfast, its freshness complimenting my otherwise ordinary cup of coffee. At the same time, my enjoyment was juxtaposed by melancholy. I gazed sullenly out my kitchen window, thinking of Julie and her mom, thinking of me and my dad, listening to the sad stream of news from NPR. I thought of the coming rains later this week that will make vibrant the greens buds on the trees while dampening the earth (and my mood) with drippy, quiet pensiveness. It’s odd how joy and sadness can tug at the heart simultaneously, held together like two ends of a tightrope pulling in different directions.
Easter Sunday was this past weekend, and my husband and I visited a church in our neighborhood that we have only been to a handful of times in the past few years. I am no longer the church-goer that I was during the 15+ years that I was active as a church music director and a student of theology. Still, this church service stirred me to tears like none I’ve felt in a long while.
There were no trumpets blaring and timpani rumbling in this church on Easter morning. No full choirs singing in four-part harmony. The music was, instead, mostly soft and soul-stirring. And the people of this church community, they were beautiful. People from literally all walks of life. Some came wearing jeans and sweatshirts. Others came in their Easter dresses and suits. The very young and the very old, dark skin, light skin, mixed cultures and ethnicities. Some participated fervently, others stood in silence throughout the service. It was an unbelievable cross-section of humanity, held together simply by the common experience of a warm greeting, a smile, and a shared desire to pray that morning. There was joy and solemnness in our Easter service, perhaps an acknowledgment of the full story of Jesus, of all of us, our human race, held together like ends of a tightrope pulling in many directions.
After communion, the music leaders offered a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (but with lyrics tailored more for the occasion of celebrating the story of Jesus). And that’s where my tears flowed. The sad and haunting melody of that song floated through my head for hours and even days afterward. It is the theme of my days lately, this broken hallelujah, filled with gratitude and joy and still an acknowledgment of sadness and joy not yet fully formed.
Perhaps this Rolling Stones article about the meaning behind Cohen’s “Hallelujah” captures my thoughts best. It surely brought the these past few days into focus for me:
“There’s a blaze of light in every word; / it doesn’t matter which you heard, / the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!”
“A blaze of light in every word.” That’s an amazing line. Every word, holy or broken – this is the fulcrum of the song as Cohen first wrote it. Like our forefathers, and the Bible heroes who formed the foundation of Western ethics and principles, we will be hurt, tested, and challenged. Love will break our hearts, music will offer solace that we may or may not hear, we will be faced with joy and with pain. But Cohen is telling us, without resorting to sentimentality, not to surrender to despair or nihilism. Critics may have fixated on the gloom and doom of his lyrics, but this is his offering of hope and perseverance in the face of a cruel world. Holy or broken, there is still hallelujah.
May you experience the light and hope and promise of Hallelujah along your path, wherever it leads. Enjoy this rendition of Cohen’s song by KD Lang as you go…
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