Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hallelujah, It's the Day of Ashes

As we witness the dissolution of the invincible American economy, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on Mardi Gras night, the last hurrah before the sobriety of Lent for Christians. What a fateful intersection of ideas. We are in such difficult times because of a callous, carnivale attitude toward finance on every level by greedy people who knew how to get wealth for the one, regardless of the impact on the many. Avarice is a mortal sin---the wisdom of that classification is now sadly clear. What the collective consciousness needs is to return to some sobering sanity where money is concerned. Hopefully, it will be in time to prevent further catastrophe.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Matthew 16:26

I did not hear the President’s speech; I was at a fundraiser for the day job, at Cipriani’s 42 Street, which is an old Bowery Savings Bank built in 1921 in an Italian Renaissance-style. The soaring ceiling and marble walls bespeak a sense of worship of money. Another strange intersection of ideas.

The singer/composer Rufus Wainwright performed at the event. His distinctive, ethereal voice gracefully filled the hall, floating over the heads and sensibility of many of the businessmen gathered. He performed two songs from his album, Want One, and then came the distinctive opening chords of the Leonard Cohen masterpiece. A shiver went down my spine. I’ve seen Rufus in concert twice, but this was a more intimate setting, and he was in excellent, excellent voice for the heady top ranges of his songs.

In the Church’s liturgy, the word “hallelujah” is not uttered between Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil. It is a word of powerful exuberance that is not appropriate for the contemplative time of Lent. Being outside the liturgy we can read this exceptional poem of love, yearning, faith, and music today. What a gift it is.


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

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

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

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

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