I love the Olympics, from the record-breaking runs to the heart-breaking spills. For the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, however, the defining moment for me came in the opening ceremonies, when kd lang sang the anthem “Hallelujah.” I sat still, electrified, from the opening notes of the song. I don’t really know what it was, precisely, that held me mesmerized. As Alec says, “She’s got some pipes.” But it wasn’t just the amazing voice. The magical marriage of kd lang’s voice with Leonard Cohen’s poetry produced something greater than either of them.
Alec downloaded the song to his ipod recently, and more often than not he plays it during our pre-dawn drive to seminary. At the opening chords, we fall silent, listening, drinking in the music as it sinks and swells inside the car. I think of King David, baffled that he can please the Lord despite his fall from grace, baffled that the love of God reaches his broken soul. I think of Samson, blind and disgraced but strong again, pulling down the arches in a last heroic act.
I think, too, about love. We use the same word for such widely disparate and often conflicting emotions and actions. We grow up talking about our “God of love,” and then we experience the tawdriness of human love, and somehow God falls in our eyes. Our anthems of praise fall flat because we don’t believe them anymore, because in our failures we cannot raise our eyes to find the divine. We lose confidence in our ability to please God. Then, as we look to the ground, our shoulders hunched and our hearts broken with the effort of trying and failing, we mumble our own version of “hallelujah.” Perhaps it’s a simple prayer of sorrow or a finally genuine plea for help. Perhaps it’s a kind act toward some other damned soul crouched far from the victory arch.
And then, in the depths, we feel it. Somehow our “cold and broken hallelujah” stumbled up to heaven. God’s voice reached down to meet it, and the resulting chord begins to grow. The heart still stained and tattered by our attempts to find love here on earth gathers strength, and hope swells a “hallelujah” finally acceptable to a God who loves us despite our failures. Perhaps God loves us because when our failures broke us, we still tried to sing.