Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where Do You Find Your 'Hallelujah'?

A big thanks to the Revs James "Monkey Mind" Ford and Kit "Ms. Kitty" Ketcham for inspiring me to revisit one of my favorite songs and see different renditions of it.

From that, sprung this sermon I delivered today with the help of our really terrific music chair. He sang and played (keyboard) Hallelujah, each verse handpicked by me (pickin' and choosin' from both major versions) and put in whatever order I wanted. Poetic license, ya know. I spoke a little, he sang a little. Talk a little, sing a little. I had no idea if it would work, but judging from the feedback, it did.

What a high.

"Where Do You Find Your 'Hallelujah'"
A sermon by Lizard Eater

(musical introduction, no words)

What’s the meaning of life?

Each of us has the responsibility for finding that out, for ourselves, according to where we are at the time. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says that to ask what is THE meaning of life is like asking a chess master, “What is the best chess move?”

Well, there is no “best chess move.” It depends on what’s going on in the game. And it’s going to change with every game, it’s going to change with every turn, as another piece is moved.

The meaning that I find in life at 16 – and no jokes about our teens, because they have amazing insight and can find incredible meaning at 16 – but that meaning we find at 16 is not going to be our meaning at 25 … which will not be our meaning at 46, or 79 or 101. And so it’s up to us to be open to new revelations.

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

The baffled King is King David, who realized the inspiration that music can give to people. He realized that it can lead to communion with, as we call it in our Unitarian Universalist sources, the “transcending mystery.” And so, according to the Book of Chronicles in the Hebrew bible, he went out and found families who could sing during the time of worship. Singing praises to God in worship. And in time, this became a major part of the synagogue service.

And in David’s joy, in his inspiration, he wrote, “Seek ye the Lord and His strength Seek His face continually Sing unto Him, sing praises unto Him Sing praises unto the Lord with the harp: With the harp and with voice of melody.”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …

We find our meaning, and then we submit it to the tests that come from living life. And we find that what we thought was meaning … might not hold true anymore. We get disillusioned. By people, events. We discover that we held immature belief or naïve belief. We need more information, in order to figure out what has meaning. We venture out into life, to live life, to experience it, to gather information about what is our purpose and why are we here and we rush out to just have the sheer joy of experiencing life, in all its highs and lows.

And at some point, we say, why do I have to sing to the Lord? Why do I have to find meaning? Isn’t it enough that I just sing? Why does it have to be to the Lord, and who is that anyway? And we know that each of us has to find our own meaning in life, so how could we possibly have the same thing in mind when we say, “The Lord”?

Well 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 her 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
Well I dont even know the name
But if I did, well really, whats it to you
Theres a blaze of light in every word
It doesnt matter which you heard
The holy or the broken, hallelujah

The Holy or the broken …
Life is hard. Does anyone here read the cartoon strip, “Pearls Before Swine?” You’re twisted individuals. Me, too.

Recently, there was a strip where Rat asks Pig why he’s still in bed at noon. Pig says, “I woke up depressed. I’m kinda hoping that if I lay real still, the day won’t notice and I can just try again tomorrow.”

We wake up and find that love has left, or pain has moved in, illness, divorce, unemployment, a troubled child, a parent’s death. Life is hard. And from the depths of it all, even with the covers pulled over our heads as we pray that if we don’t move, maybe the day just won’t see us … still, there is that voice from deep inside that says, “Hallelujah.”

The first hymn that we did today – We Are a Gentle Angry People – was written by Holly Near after the assassination of openly gay San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk and the mayor, George Moscone. As the people gathered in candlelight vigil at the City Hall, they sang that song together. In the midst of that anger and hurt and grief … still, Holly Near found the Hallelujah.

Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a complaint you hear tonight
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. But still … from deep in our soul, comes Hallelujah. Somehow, in even the worst of circumstances, we can find something to be grateful for. When our daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Tom and I would look at each other and say, “I really hate that I’m here. But if I have to be here, I’m glad you’re the one who is here with me.”

But here’s the thing … the Hallelujah comes from inside you. And now matter how much you want to, no matter how much you love another person, you can’t find their Hallelujah for them. Pointing out that yes, Job, you’ve lost everything, your children have all died, you’re covered in boils … but hey, you’re still alive! And you still have your hair! Will not be met with gratitude. You can only find your own Hallelujah.

But when we find our Hallelujah … when we find it …

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …

It is praise for something outside ourselves.

Writers – whether they be poets, or novelists, or songwriters, often speak of not just being inspired, but about the words seeming to come from somewhere else. Not just out of their own heads.

Paul Stookey, he of Peter, Paul and Mary, wrote perhaps the most popular contemporary wedding song, There is Love. He says, “Into every songwriter’s life comes a song, the source of which cannot be explained by personal experience." He felt so strongly that this song came through him, not by him, that he created a charity, the Public Domain Foundation, Music for Social Change,” and gave them all the royalties. Since that time, they have taken in and distributed to worthy causes nearly 2 million dollars.

Something outside of us, something more than just what we know and what we experience, moves in us, and inspires us. And even if our hearts have been broken, our spirits shattered, this transcending mystery teaches us hope and enables us to try it one more time. We may still carry bitterness in our soul, but we find it easier to carry. We learn to let go of the fairytales and say Hallelujah for the reality, the messy, disillusioning reality. And we again open ourselves up to love.

Well baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor,
You know, I used to live alone before I knew you
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah

Well there was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

We often have little control over the circumstances of our lives. A move this way, a move that way, and we wouldn’t have wound up here. We can’t control other people. They may change, they may leave us, they may die. All we can control is how we respond. All we can control is if we continue to sing.

Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called, “He Went to Paris” about a young man filled with questions and thoughts, who falls in love, loses his wife and child in the blitz, thinks more about those questions and lives life. And at the end of it all, he says, “Some of it was magic, some of it was tragic. But I had a good life all the way.”

Just to be born, was an amazing gift, biologically, there was only a 1 in 40 million chance that you, just the way you are, would be born. And here you are. Finding meaning. Doing your best. Living life. No matter what happens, you were here. You are here. And you can sing Hallelujah.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel so I learned 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 lips but hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah.

Closing Words:

At the end of it all, no matter what twists life takes, what better thing can there be to say than Leonard Cohen’s words – I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah.

Hymns: We Are a Gentle Angry People, My Life Goes On (How Can I Keep From Singing), Alleluia. Offeratory: There is Love (The Wedding Song). "Reading" 2 -- I announced it as Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, then our music chair did a low-key version of "Turn, Turn, Turn." As part of the meditation, I told the Zen parable about the tigers, the cliff, and the strawberry.


ms. kitty said...

Wow, just wow. Thank you for sharing this wonderful sermon.

David G. Markham said...

What a great sermon! I am linking to our blog at

Thanks for the compassion, the inspiration, the honesty.

All the best,

David Markham

Louise Lewis said...

Since I believe in 'connecting the dots'of my life, I just had to stop and thank you for your wonderful post. And I agree that our 'meaning of life' answer does change as we turn the pages of new chapters in our lives.

As my simple way of giving back, I'd like to offer you (and all who read this) a gift copy (pdf) of my book: No Experts Needed: The Meaning of Life According to You! It's my true story of how following only messages from Spirit (not Ego) created an amazing journey and added meaning to every day of my it can for everyone!

No strings attached...really! Check it out on my website -- -- and then just e-mail your request.

Yes, it is just that simple.

Thanks again!
Louise Lewis, Author
No Experts Needed: The Meaning of Life According to You!

frank said...

"The universal purpose of life is to destroy the root of suffering and gain joy in being alive, so that you rejoice at having been born human and live on in eternal happiness. No matter how hard your life may be, keep on until you accomplish this purpose."


Comrade Kevin said...


Becky said...

This is a beautiful sermon in print--I can only imagine how moving it must have been in person. Thank you so much for sharing this.