Sunday, September 7, 2008

Turning: Slipping into Autumn, Pondering Elul

Early Autumn has slipped up on us, here at Sedillo, furtively, amidst the flurry of beginnings: school for the Boychick, UNM responsibilities and courses for me, and the Engineering Geek's remodel of the bedroom floor.

The sunflowers have bloomed riotously in the meadows and along the roadsides. They will be here until October. As they go to seed, an abundance of birds and squirrels can be seen, getting ready for winter.

The arrival of September, the coming of the Chem Geek Princess's Birthday, and the waxing of the Elul moon, all bring to my attention the turning of the wheel of the year; the passage of time becoming clear. With our movement into the season of the High Holy Days, my mood becomes more reflective internally, as I contemplate the ephemeral nature of life. Now is what we have to act upon and none of us knows how long our personal experience will extend into the future.

Perhaps the seasons of our lives influence how we reflect on the seasons of the year. The Chem Geek Princess is in the early summer of her life, but I am nearing the end of the summer of mine. So I am contemplating the harvest of the years. The bittersweet nature of this pondering has been multiplied for me of late by the signs around us of generational change and the coming fourth turning in the saeculum of our civilization.

And this year, as we enter the season of turning, and harvest, I have found myself thinking about Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. His is not the triumphal joy of "one who has seen the light," but rather the quiet joy of finding the sparks of hidden light among the pieces of shattered vessels that could not contain the power of creation. He meditates on a "very broken Hallelujah." The song recalls David's great praise in the psalms, and the human quality of his reach for great holiness, and the times when his grasp slipped, only so that he could reach again.

From the beginning of the reach for holiness:

"Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah "

To an understanding that within the loss of innocence, praise can be found:

"Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you;
She tied you To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah."

To the singer's reach for the Infinite Unspeakable Name:

"You say I took the Name in vain,
I don't even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah,"

To finding G-d in the imperfect union of lovers:

"There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below,
Ah but now you never show it to me, do you?
Yeah but I remember when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
Yes every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah."

To the reaching and the longing and the acceptance of the sparks that are found among the broken vessels:

"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."

The "you" in the song seems to shift from a lover to the sweet singer of the psalms, and to the Eternal One.
There are many verses to this song. Cohen himself has recorded several different versions, and other artists had recorded covers that include different combinations of verses.

Although I am currently partial to the very liturgical interpretation of K.D. Lang, I think that Cohen's own meditative interpretation gives a most powerful voice to the longing and fulfillment found in "standing before the Lord of Song" with nothing on his lips but Hallelujah:

To me, in this season of turning and reflection, occuring in the middle of secular beginnings and the coming of seasonal, personal and saecular autumn and winter, this song is a prayer and a meditation on the balance I try to maintain between "fear and the call" (as Emmy Lou Harris would have it).


denise said...

Beautiful photos!

I also love the KD Lang version - I have a live recording from the Juno's. But...the Jeff Buckley version? goosebumps.

We too are feeling fall creeping in - love it!

Lisa said...

Have you heard Jeff Buckley's version of this song? You can hear it here:

Thank you for reminding of this beautiful music. This is a good time of the year to find the things that return us to ourselves again. Lisa

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, everyone!

I did listen to Jeff Buckley's, but I still am really partial to K.D. Lang's right now. The mood is right. But Buckley's is excellent.

Melora said...

Well that was neat! I'd never heard that song on anything but the Shrek soundtrack before.

I Love your sunflowers!

sheila said...

LC on a German chat show! Complete with blowing leaves. THis kind of cracks me up, because most of my LC knowledge is from that NFB film he did as a very charismatic 20 something. This is one of the most beautiful songs he's ever done, IMO. I love it.