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Of Myths, Grace, and Hallelujahs

"Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in"

Poet, Songwriter, Singer Leonard Cohen

Recently, my husband and I gathered with two other couples to watch a short video about creation stories (supposedly there are many even in the Christian Bible) and follow up with a discussion.

It really did not seem all that interesting even to me even though we were hosting. I was wrong.

We often think of creation stories as myth, not in terms of being untrue (the way we commonly use the word “myth”), but rather as BIG frameworks we use collectively for making sense of the world. Where do we come from? Who are we? What is our purpose? How should we treat each other? Myths answer these questions.

One Jewish creation story called Tikkun Olam (which evidently means repair the world, establish a just order according to the video) is told about the earliest time when the world was accidentally shattered with pieces of the Divine spread all about – all humans having a shard of the Divine.

Our mission, as humans based on a loose overview of this creation story, is to collect these Divine shards, do go deeds, put the Divine world back together.

Our little group began to discuss not only big creation stories and myths that may have consciously or unconsciously formed us (both in useful and hurtful ways), but also our family stories.

My husband, John, told of a story he remembered from his childhood. It was a hard story about his father. He loved his father and was shocked and hurt by what his father did.

My husband’s family bought a cabin when he was three. He loved the cabin. One source of concern was the dock. John was not allowed on the dock without a life preserver until he could swim. He hated wearing a life preserver. No one else wore a life preserver. Of course, everyone else could swim.

John evidently was on the shallow end of dock without a life preserver when his father picked him up, walked to the deep side of the dock, and threw him in the water. John was frantic. He sputtered out water and gasped for air.

As it turned out, John could swim. But a rupture occurred that day between John and his father. John didn’t talk to his father for days. He carried some hurt, anger, and resentment about that incident until a few days ago.

Something clicked for John. “I felt a moment of grace for my father,” he said. “I think my father was just doing his best to try to empower me. To show me that I could swim and be done with all this conflict over wearing the life jacket.”

When John shared this story with the group. Rita, one of our friends, joined in with a story of her own.

When Rita was a younger woman, she had car trouble. She found a phone to call her father for help. Her father responded with, “Not my problem.”

We all gasped…evidently with understanding how we might feel stranded somewhere without help. (How could a father be so cold and unfeeling, was what I was thinking.)

Rita, I can only imagine, was probably dumbfounded, scared, and angry. I’m not sure how she eventually got herself out of the situation. I do know she did not forget her father’s lack of aid.

“The story does not end there, “ Rita said. “A few years ago, I was driving with my father. He was telling me about a young man who was moving and called his father for help. The father told him he was on his own.”

Then Rita said, “My father turned to me and asked, “Can you imagine a father who would not help his child?”

Of course, Rita clearly remembered her own father’s lack of help. As Rita paused there with her story, I remember my vengeful thinking, “Oh, I hope she really gives it to him now. Makes him remember how he let her down.”

Rita noticed within herself the pull toward reminding him of his own behavior, but instead, she quite intentionally chose to say, “No, Dad, I can’t imagine that.”

There seemed to be a little collective. “Oh.” As if understanding she took the higher road.

Then, Rita paused again. “There’s more.”

She finished the story something like this. “Some years later I was at my parents' home. When I went out to leave, my car wouldn’t start. This time my father was right there by my side helping me to get it running again.”

These two family narratives are meaningful to me, and I am not even one of the players.

They make sense of the world. A father who, perhaps with the best of intentions, hurt his son and their relationship. A father who, without scolding, becomes a better man on his own.

And then there are these two grown up children who ultimately found that somehow they could, despite their suffering, give grace to their fathers.

These stories are life-giving narratives despite the pain. They repair people, they repair the world, Tikkun Olam.

I hope even in dark times we can still find Tikkun Olam stories, big, true stories of mythical proportions which lift us up. Makes sense, repair the world.

As I was talking to a friend about this yesterday. We started talking about the role of music and myths to live by. I told him we had just seen the documentary on Leonard Cohen and the song Hallelujah.

Somehow this song seems to have created a cult of hundreds of thousands of people who find this song, a combination of what some have called a hymn and a dirge, spiritual and sensual, a collective anthem for themselves and perhaps the human race according to cultural observers like Enuma Okoro.

We receive blessings, we bemoan our losses, our heartbreaks, our wrong-doings, our deaths. In Hebrew the roots of the word hallelujah mean praise God.

In the documentary, Leonard Cohen performs Hallelujah (hear him in London on his knees toward the end. The last stanza brings the house down.

Now I’ve done my best, I know it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come here just to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of song

With nothing, nothing on my tongue by Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Cohen said people have been singing hallelujah for thousands of years to affirm our little journey. It’s a song of hope, of despair, of trying to get it right, of screwing up. Broken shards ….of the Divine. (Even the Shrek folks picked the song up to express the mythic journey of their characters )

As John’s mother often said, “We’re just doing the best with what we’ve got.”

How might it be if, despite it all, we make room on our little journeys for at least an occasional act of grace and a Hallelujah. I am pretty sure it helps repair us and the world.


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