Thursday, September 27, 2007

from the journey of a blind woman: a discussion on Hallelujah (part 1)

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approach'd the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," -quoth he- "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," -quoth he,-
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," -quoth he,- "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend

The process of digging into the 'behind the scenes' details of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah felt a little bit like interviewing the six blind men of Indostan. It seems that so many people have strong feelings about the song. (Or is it that the song has strong feelings about us?)

I kept having to ask myself, "Why am I doing this? Why do I care? I like the song. I saw it covered in a cool way by Bon Jovi. I enjoyed the experience. Isn't that enough?"

Well, yes -- and no.

Consider this statement:"We must learn again that vision is not for private consumption. My vision is my vocation; the world is waiting for it to find concrete form. So few people, alas, still perceive the art in which they participate -- music, films -- as an arena for exchange of visions, for discovery of our common human vocations...Many of our contemporaries think of art...simply as relaxation or personal therapy. They use their imaginations to flee into their mental cocoon, to weave a personal lifestyle not open to discussion."

(essay "The Christian Imagination" by Janine Langan The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. 71,72)

So, hurray for the six blind men of Indostan for at least talking about the elephantin the room! Sadly, it doesn't seem that they got very far in listening to each other, "Of course, an elephant is a wall, or a rope or a snake. This is what my personal experience dictates as truth!" But you got to start somewhere.

In the spirit of learning from the six blind men, and because this conversation about a song and a song-writer seemed to become more than a simple discussion about songs and television shows and 8o's rockers. And, because it seemed, to me, to grow into a deeper discussion about some pretty important subjects -- art and faith; sacred and secular; art-making and art-responding and all that. And, because we have this wonderful vehicle of discussion, our blogging community, why not further the conversation right here, right now?

And, why not? What follows is my very ameteur attempt at breaking down the discussion-- generated here and elsewhere -- regarding this piece of a art, a song Hallelujah, written by an artist, Leonard Cohen. Please be patient with me, gentle readers, as one blind man to another.

First the questions:
1. Is it possible to engage in worship with a song (in this case) that was not ever intended to be a vehicle for worship? Part b: Is it possible for a person to engage in the act of worship without the intention of worship?

2. Is it possible to mix the sacred and the secular, the pure and the profane, without one diminishing the other?

3. Lastly, what the heck did Leonard Cohen mean when he wrote this song, anyway?

Alright, I'm going to go hang out with the elephant a little bit longer.
I'll be back soon.

In the meantime, feel free to give your input. From the discussion here and here, do you think these three stated questions are a fair summary?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...