Category Archives: Stories

With our minds, we make the world…

What is Leonard Cohen’s Song “Hallelujah” About?


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
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, 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
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, 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
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, 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
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

Starting with the “secret chord”, this is a reference to 1 Samuel 16:23 which says “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” This was the first thing that brought David to the attention of Saul and the reason he rose to power in Saul’s palace. Plus, of course, his later success in killing Goliath in the next chapter.

According to an early Cohen interview, “the minor fall, the major lift” is about a spiritual journey.  A sort of reference to “one step forward, two steps backwards”, but in reverse.  On a spiritual journey it’s more often two steps forward and you feel you’ve glimpsed the light, followed by one step backwards as it recedes again. So a “minor fall” is followed by a “major lift”.

“But you don’t really care for music, do you?” is about the futility of trying to discuss your own spiritual journey with others, well, most others.  It sets up the necessity for speaking in metaphors about faith and God.

“The baffled king composing Hallelujah” is about the mystery of artistic endeavour. It seems to come upon the artist unbidden. The “muse” we so often hear about. Is it from the human consciousness or is it from God?

Then we get the bit about Bathsheba bathing on the roof.  This equates sexual excitement with spiritual excitement. The blurring and confusion between the intensely physical and the intensely physical.

But remember that this song is specifically about David; a deeply spiritual and pure man who went horribly wrong many times.
His lust for Bathsheba lead him into the most grievous sin of having her husband killed.

His desire for her was so intense that he would literally do anything, even imperil his soul to possess her. But once he did, terrible things happened, including the death of their son.

“She broke your throne and she cut your hair” is precisely what she did.  Well, what David’s lust for her did.  As a feminist I don’t blame Bathsheba herself as she did not instigate this but was merely the object of David’s lust initially.  David’s glorious rein never truly recovered because David was worshipping lust over God. Hence “and from your lips, she drew the Hallelujah”.

The concept of worshipping lust over God is what this entire song is about.

It could be lust for sex, power, money or something else, but it must always be broken.  “It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah” explains this.

The third verse is often missing from the song, however, the original include the lines “You say I took the name in vain, but I don’t even know the name.” referring to the fact that nobody knows God’s name, so it is impossible to take it in vain, but vanity will often make people think they do know God. As the song continues “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy, or the broken Hallelujah.”

Cohen is saying the effect on the person may be the same.
The “broken” is the false praise of lust, money, power etc, whereas the “holy” is the true praise of God. However, to the undiscerning these seem identical and, after all, who can claim to be discerning?

And then you get the final lyrics. The ultimate conclusion that explains it all.
“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song, with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah”.

Ultimate redemption, ultimate purity.

Nothing else is needed but the pure and simple praise of God with no desire for any personal gain from that praise.

It’s a very holy song about a life of struggle trying to know God from with honesty and simplicity from the perspective of a confused human being.


Flammarion waits for Enoch

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago
was caught up to the third heaven. “

2 Corinthians 12:2

Enoch will be along soon.

I’ll wait outside, and look at the sky, and remember what we spoke of last time.

I still have the broken blue egg shell.
I lie on my back and hold it to the sun.

Yes, it is the same flat blue of the  sky on a cloudless day.

Today there are clouds, bringing the sky closer.
Will they come so close that the sky falls, watering the ground?

“Is the sky water?” I asked Enoch.
For it is the colour of the sea and lakes I have seen
and as changeable in its blues and greys.
And water falls from it.

Enoch says this is the first heaven that we see.
Ruled by the sun of light and heat.

Then what of night?
When the sky is drawn back,
revealing sparking treasures,
far above.
And glorious silken folds of crimson
herald their arrival each evening
and announce their departure each morn.

The sun has gone and with it its heat,
so the water in heaven turns to crystals of
ice and twinkles in the light of the solemn moon;
waiting for the sun king to return.

That, says Enoch, is the second heaven.

But there is the third heaven that Enoch knows.
Perhaps only Enoch knows.

He tells me it lies between corruptibility and incorruptibility
That it holds the Tree of Life,
the source of knowledge.

And two springs,
one milk, one honey.
But then two others,
one oil, one wine.
Which is four, not two.
But Enoch says two.

But how does Enoch know?

He says he has been there.
To argue with Azazel
about the way women
paint their eyebrows.

Which seems such a trivial matter to discuss with an archangel, but I know there was more;  I just can’t remember it all.

The first heaven hides the second heaven.
Its blue veil is drawn back with a flourish,
momentarily revealing its scarlet lining  each evening.
Then the second heaven appears.

Enoch says we see the first and second heavens because God wants us to think, and to realise there must be more.

The second heaven hides the third.
But we can  see it only by invitation.
If I understand Enoch rightly.
Which probably, I don’t.

But oh, what joy!
To lie here on my back,
gazing at the blue above
and the egg shell in my hand
and wait for Enoch
so we can talk
and wonder some more
at our God’s creation.

“What intelligent being, what being capable of responding emotionally to a beautiful sight, can look at the jagged, silvery lunar crescent trembling in the azure sky, even through the weakest of telescopes, and not be struck by it in an intensely pleasurable way, not feel cut off from everyday life here on earth and transported toward that first stop on the celestial journeys? What thoughtful soul could look at brilliant Jupiter with its four attendant satellites, or splendid Saturn encircled by its mysterious ring, or a double star glowing scarlet and sapphire in the infinity of night, and not be filled with a sense of wonder? Yes, indeed, if humankind — from humble farmers in the fields and toiling workers in the cities to teachers, people of independent means, those who have reached the pinnacle of fame or fortune, even the most frivolous of society women — if they knew what profound inner pleasure await those who gaze at the heavens, then France, nay, the whole of Europe, would be covered with telescopes instead of bayonets, thereby promoting universal happiness and peace.”

Camille Flammarion, 1880


It was all very well for mother to say “God will provide” as she sat listlessly on the edge of her bed, tired and weak, but surely it was he who was doing the providing!

Up before dawn, walking in the frosty morning air to the shore.
Digging in the cold mud by the ligtht of his small lamp for worms that seemed as listless as he felt and unlikely to wriggle enough to attract the interest of any curious fish.

But he had caught fish.
Twelve of them in all.
Ten of them a fairly good size but two that were just tiddlers.

By mid-morning he was in the local market place, bartering his 10 best fish.
A nice looking lady seemed to take pity on him and had offered him a barley loaf for 2 fish, well above the normal going rate, but he suspected she could see his own hunger and his anxiety.

Tramping back across the hills, the boy was pleased with his morning’s work, but still resentful.
How he wanted to go to school and learn, like his friends, about the whole wide world.

But his mother was sick and his father had been away for months; may even be dead for all anyone knew.
There was only him to head out each morning to find food for his sick mother and baby sister.
He sighed, looking down at his own dirty bare feet as he walked, lost in his own miserable thoughts, as he transferred his heavy basket to the other shoulder.

“Today I caught a fish
tonight we’ll eat the fish
and give thanks to God
for his provision
so that tomorrow
I have may the strength to
to catch another fish.
Oh hell!”

As he crested a small hill he saw a crowd.
What was this?
The boy immediately thought a fisherman must have drowned and this must be his funeral.
But as he grew closer he heard the voices – happy, excited, chattering with joy.

“He’s here!
Come see!
Gather ’round
all Galilee!”

Who was this man at the centre of the crowd?
He began to speak; not loudly, but with certain authority.
A hush fell across the crowd.

Yet the boy
was still far off
and could not
hear the words.

But it must be important.
Looking at all the faces, men and women, old and young, all gazing it rapt attention, desperate to hear more.

Finally, the boy was close enough to hear, but all the man said was “You are hungry my friends. Let us share our food”.
Then the crowd began to murmur, and the murmuring turned to grumbling, and it became clear that nobody had any food.

At that moment a huge, tall man with a long curly beard spoke directly to the boy.
“Will you share what you have in your basket?” he asked.

The boy looked at the man, felt the warmth of his smile, and was unable to reply.
He’d worked hard for this food. his mother and his sister needed this food.
How could he share it with strangers and go home with an empty basket?
How could this man even ask?

As if reading his mind, the bearded man knelt down so that his eyes were level with the boy’s.
He pointed to the man at the centre of the crowd; the one they had all come to see, and said.

“Do you know who this is?
He is the Son of God.
Whatever you give
will return to you
a thousand-fold”

“But my mother is sick,
and my sister is poorly.
What I carry
is ALL
they will eat for a day”

“Your family will be fed and your family will be well”. the man replied.

He seemed so confident in his words.
He knew the truth of this miracle man who needed his fish and his barley loaves to feed his friends.

It seemed so little to give,
when so many were hungry.
But it was all he had.
And he had worked hard for it.
And would again tomorrow.

“And would again tomorrow … ” unless SOMETHING happened!
unless something changed.

He remembered the words of his own father, as he went away, seeking work, somewhere,  a pack slung across his back:

“If you never take a risk, nothing ever changes.”

He looked at Andrew (for that was his name) and Andrew looked at the boy, struggling with his decision.

“Yes”, said the boy
“of course
the Son of God
may have
my fish and bread”

And he handed over the basket.

And everything changed!

For Sandie – an agent of change (John 6:6)

The Girl Who Said No to an Angel

She was singing again!
Down there in the sun-drenched courtyard next door.
The sweet sounds had woken Leah from a fitful sleep.

She opened the shutter with irritation and looked down.
There she was, hanging heavy linens on a line to dry.
Her hair flowing loose about her, glinting golds and ambers in the morning light.
What right did she have to be singing?

She caught snatches of the words – “He hath exalted the humble and the meek” she sang, standing with her arms raised as she hung out her washing.

Leah could clearly see the girl’s face, glowing with joy as she sung to her Lord.
She didn’t look humble and meek to Leah; she looked self-satisfied and a bit simple.

But who would have thought it?
Pregnant and unmarried at just fourteen, yet old Joseph next door had believed her; believed that the young girl he had taken in to look after his motherless infant son and his older boys was miraculously pregnant without ever having
known a man.

Even though Leah knew Miriam’s story was the truth, she didn’t see how anyone else could possibly believe it.

“He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts”, Miriam sang.
Well, that certainly seemed to be the case.
By rights, the imagination of Joseph’s heart should have seen him bundle Miriam unceremoniously out of his home and branded her as a harlot, unfit to care for his children. She should be begging on the streets.
But instead there she was, arms upraised to the Lord, signing her heart out in the shimmering sun, enormous belly protruding proudly for all to see.

Leah lay down on her bed and tears stung at her eyes.
Joseph had believed her!

The angel had said there was “no need to fear”, but how could a girl possibly not fear being humiliated, ostracised and left to starve?

How had Miriam believed the angel when Leah could not?
The angel had said to her, “Do not be afraid, Leah; you have found favour with God.”
Do not be afraid? Of course she was afraid! She had been terrified.
She had begged, “No, not me!” and told the angel to find someone else.

Had the angel been making his way down the street? Was Miriam the very next girl he visited?
How many others had said no and sent the angel away?
But apparently Miriam had meekly said “I am the Lord’s servant” and that was that.

But oh, it seemed so unfair!
If Leah had known that everyone would honour the pregnant maid and call her “blessed”, then she would have said yes to the angel, just as Miriam evidentially had. But how could she have known?

It was the most shameful thing imaginable for a girl to carry a child when unwed.
Her family would not keep her and she would live like a dog in the streets, begging for crusts.
Nobody would employ her to work in their home as her shame would reflect upon their own honour.
If she survived until the child was born, it was unlikely to be born alive, and if it was, then what?
Another tiny pair of hands begging in the market place?
What woman in her right mind would have said yes to such a proposition?

Oh sure, it was all very well for an angel to say “Do not be afraid”, but seriously, what sort of an idiot would not be terrified?

Leah moved to the window again and looked down.
Miram was still in the courtyard, simply standing still and looking heavenward.
She saw the movement in the window and smiled, a huge, beaming smile, and waved.
“Leah!” She called out, “I am just about to take some honey cakes out of the oven. Please, do come and breakfast with me.”

Yes, radiant; that was the only word to describe this glowing young maiden.
Simply look upon her would melt the hardest heart and bring joy to the soul.

Leah’s jealousy evaporated instantly.
She waved, smiled and called out “I’ll be there in a moment”.

Closing the shutter, she said “Bless her, Lord, for she is truly blessed, and I give you thanks that I may call this most beautiful and precious girl my best friend”, and she ran down the stairs to share breakfast.

When Peter Showed Me an Angel

The photo above was taken by my father, a great and highly respected horseman.  It is of the Silpark fox hounds at Ashbourne, South Australia.
He called it “Full Cry”.

Towards the end of his life my father was in a nursing home.
I went to see him a couple of days before he died.

Dad’s decline had been quite fast and the two previous times I had visited that week him he had been unresponsive,
lying flat on his back,
breathing slowly through his mouth,
his face a pale grey colour.

I was not expecting any difference on that last day and I had just been talking to the nursing staff who said it was unlikely he would show any further sign of consciousness.

But as I stood at the door of his room I was very surprised by what I saw.
Dad was not lying still.
He had raised his shoulders from the bed, |
his face was flushed pink,
his eyes were open and sparkling,
and he was talking,
with animated hand gestures and
indistinguishable words
to someone I could not see.

The right corner of Dad’s room was not visible from the door, but I had the impression that the person he was talking to was in that corner and there was a bright golden light coming from that spot.
I stood and watched for several moments,
because it seemed rude to interrupt.

Then, as I walked into the room, the light became normal.

I expected to see another visitor in the corner of the room, but there was nobody there, however Dad’s attention was still focused in that direction.

When I spoke to him, saying hello, he was reluctant to focus on me but eventually sort of shrugged his sholders and rolled his eyes as if to indicate to the person he was talking to tht he was sorry to break off their conversation, but he had to talk to his daughter now.

As he focused on me,
I asked him how he was
and he replied
“at peace”,
and closed his eyes.
He never spoke again.

As we were preparing for his funeral our Parish Priest, Peter, asked me if I wanted to view Dad’s body.
I have seen a lot of dead people, but even so, I said no.

I wanted to remember him
as I had seen him last ;
face flushed
with joyful anticipation,
eyes sparkling
with a dream of peace
with the past.

So I told Peter about that last moment when Dad had spoke, and his response changed my life.

Peter said:

“There are always angels hovering at that time”

and he explained to me that he believed Dad was talking to an angel when I saw him.

Perhaps, if Peter had seemed like some sort of religious nutter, I may have taken his words with a grain of salt.
But here was this intelligent, composed, sensible and sincere man talking to me about angels. I had to sit up and take notice.
I had to learn more.

And so began my faith journey,
as I began to notice the angels myself.

(for Peter. 2009)