Living Between the Hallelujahs

Dec 15 2014

I’ve been listening to Pandora’s classical Christmas station for two weeks now, which is a mistake for a couple reasons.

First, there are approximately six songs total on Pandora’s classical Christmas station and five hundred thousand different arrangements of the six. Honest to God, if I have to hear another classical arrangement of The Holly and The Ivy or its tied-for-most-mind-numbing-Christmas-song-ever, Here We Come A Wassailing, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. Although, in defense of Here We Come A Wassailing, it’s a song meant to be fueled by booze like One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall or the movie, Dude, Where’s My Car, which are awesome but only after some seriously questionable amounts of imbibing, and I was listening to it stone cold sober, so… my bad.

The second reason Pandora’s classical Christmas is a mistake — and the reason I keep listening to it — is the Hallelujah Chorus.

The Hallelujah Chorus, you guys!

So bold!

So triumphant!

So beautiful and BIG and powerful and filled with joy!

I love the Hallelujah Chorus.

I mean, I love LOVE the Hallelujah Chorus. 

I can hit that high A note, too, so I’m practically obligated to sing along every time it comes on. Which is a lot. A lot, a lot. It’s like every second song on Pandora’s classical Christmas station, and sometimes, when my children are very lucky, it’s every song. Song after song of nothing but the Hallelujah Chorus.

Let me tell you, my kids think the very best part of Christmas is their mama twirling in her nightie and bunny slippers throughout the wreckage that is our house and singing the Hallelujah Chorus full throttle, rockets firing, tearing down that runway and TAKING OFF toward that high A like I mean it. Which I DO. And, sure, they compare my singing to the tragic wails of a dying walrus, but their words belie their hearts which are crying out for more. “MORE SINGING, Mommy!” their little eyes say, filled with hope/dread, “MORE SINGING.” And so I do even though their words say “NO!” and “STOP!” and “I’LL GIVE YOU ALL MY MONEY, MOM!” Their words are just kidding, and our house is filled with joy, so I’ll take it.

I’ll take it.

The mess. The madness. The music. The magic. The mundane. The mystery. The magnificence.

I’ll take it.

I’ll take all of it.

Except the parts of the mess and the madness I don’t want, of course.

I’m not quite so eager to accept those with open arms.

The cute messes, yes; glitter and flour spills; shirts on backwards; the 8-year-old who lets one rip in church during quiet prayer time, fine. And the adorable, quirky madnesses? The middle schooler who believes in unicorns; the kid who washes the same pair of socks every day in a load all by itself; and the 2nd grader who can’t sleep without a separate, second bedtime snack every, single night? Great; I’m in. Whatever.

I’m just… less of a fan of the messes that wind their way to the murky darkness and the madnesses that cut us past our core.

My cousin’s cousin died last week. Overdosed on drugs. I didn’t know him, but I hugged his aunt who’s also my aunt tight on Saturday and whispered, “I’m so sorry” in her ear and she whispered, “me, too” before she squeezed tighter and said, “stupid boys; stupid, stupid boys.” Next month will be 15 years since her own boy died, lost in a maze of depression and confusion, and there was a whole world of grief and love and longing in her voice. We hugged in the middle of a party. A party celebrating a graduation and a milestone for yet another cousin. An enormous accomplishment. A BIG DEAL. A joyful day. My aunt released me but grabbed my arms and locked her eyes with mine and said, fiercely, “But now we celebrate.” And I gripped her back and said, “We party like we mean it.” And she said, “We party because we do mean it.” And I said, “Both/And.” And she said, “Both/And.” And it was magic in the mess.

This is the Season of Light in the Darkness.

My Jewish friends begin Hanukkah — the Festival of Lights — at sundown tomorrow, and we Christians wait now in our Season of Advent. 

This is the Season of Anticipation. The Season of Hope. The Season of Love Made Flesh. The Season of Light With Us. Of Divinity and Humanity Intertwined. The Season of God, as finite and eternal and fragile and strong as a baby, which is the best miracle I know.

But the darkness persists.

Doesn’t it?

The darkness is resilient, too.

Damn it.

Light walks among us and darkness still exists, and I find in this whole season and all of life, I am so very Both/And. Both deeply content and always unsettled. Both certain of the Light and sitting in darkness. 

‘Tis the Season, friends.


Both Joy and Grief. Both Light and Dark. Both Steady As She Goes! and Brace For Impact! Both Human and Divine. Both Steady and Unstable.

I got an email last week from a friend who’s recovering from major surgery. He linked to a blog by Fred Smith about Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah, which is so very different from the Hallelujah Chorus I’ve been singing around my house.

So very different, and yet… the Hallelujah Chorus and the cold and broken Hallelujahs are only as different as two sides of the same coin, I suppose. And so it’s not difficult in the end to consider that both joy and grief — both mess and magic — spill out as Hallelujahs, after all

“This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled,” Cohen has said, “but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’ That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say, ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.’…

“The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say, ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’

My friend signed his email, “living between the bookends of hallelujah,” and I thought, yes.

Yes, this is it, entirely. We are living between the bookends of Hallelujah. A whole, messy life lived inside of Hallelujah.

Because there is a Light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And through it all, together, somehow, Hallelujah.

Living Between the Bookends of Hallelujah,




P.S. Please, if you feel so inclined, share your Hallelujahs, friends. Whatever kind. I keep meaning to ask you for updates — to inquire how this season is for you — but my season is busy and I haven’t and I miss you.