Yesterday, I went to the wedding of a very dear friend. He’s not a friend I see often, but somehow, despite neither of us not being very good at keeping in touch these days, we have remained friends. The wedding invitation was quite possibly the most surprising, and best, piece of post I’ve ever had.
Somehow, yesterday managed to be full of many of my favourite things. I saw some of the people I most dearly love in the world. Spending five minutes with them is enough to get me smiling for at least a whole day, and just thinking about them brings a grin to my face. Not only this, but the service included three of my favourite hymns: Here is Love Vast as the Ocean, Love Divine and Be Thou My Vision, the latter two of which we had at our own wedding. Imagine, if you can, someone who loves singing (that’s me) singing her favourite hymns with some of the people she loves most in the world, along with a church full of people who mean what they’re singing and are full of joy at being there. I think that is as near to heaven as I’m going to get on earth.
The service was lovely, meaningful and emotional. As well as the hymns there was also singing during the signing of the register. Although the songs were about love, they were quite unusual choices for a wedding, I thought.
The first was Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, which is one of my favourite songs. Hearing it yesterday, though, I heard and understood the words in a new way. There are lots of versions of the lyrics, sung by Cohen and the numerous people who’ve covered the song. The lyrics sung yesterday weren’t Cohen’s original lyrics but the version sung by Rufus Wainwright on the Shrek soundtrack, which is probably the version most people are more familiar with. They didn’t sing the fourth verse!
I have only ever heard the Rufus Wainwright/Jeff Buckley version, which contains the line
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah
which is possibly one of my favourite lyrics of all time. Before yesterday’s wedding I had understood these lines in terms of love being painful and difficult, but hearing them yesterday I heard a different meaning – that love is not only found in joy and victory but also in the cold and broken efforts of human beings, and that both ‘loves’ are equally valid. Whether this refers to loving and praising God, as David tried to do with his ‘Hallelujahs’, or to love of others when the only love we can give them is cold and broken, these small efforts of man are precious in the sight of God. As Cohen says in his original lyrics:
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
To me, this song captures the reality of love, whether it is the love between husband and wife, God and man or between friends. Love is there in the joyous times, like yesterday’s wedding, when it comes easily. However, we also love not only when the only ‘hallelujah’ we can sound is cold and broken, but also when to love causes us to be broken and demands some sacrifice of us.
During the sermon the preacher (who also happened to be the chauffer and the groom’s father!) quoted from Philip Larkin’s poem, An Arundel Tomb. Whether you choose to believe that Larkin meant his final line “What will survive of us is love” I personally believe that this statement is true. The ways in which we love, how we show our love and demonstrate it to others, whether other people feel loved by us, whether we feel loved by them, whether loving other people hurts us or whether we hurt other people by not loving them (or loving them too much) all contribute to the way in which we are remembered and the effect we have on the people and the world around us. Those who love have a profound effect on people as individuals and on the world. They are the people we remember and celebrate. Their love (or at least the effect of it) remains long after their deaths.
It was easy to love and to feel loved yesterday. It will be harder this week when I’m being catheterized, and the week after that when I go to work and have to deal with difficult customers at the desk, annoying managerial decisions and the first library tours of the season. It will be difficult during the times when I feel that love doesn’t really make things better, when it seems pointless or when the only result of it seems to be that people get hurt.
Even at the best of times my love, especially for God, is cold and broken. Although I love many people dearly I don’t love well. I am too cold or too intense, I don’t care enough or I care too much, I don’t make the effort or I get carried away. I’m not very good at finding the middle ground! I am not good at loving God, or at praising Him or at loving people in the way that He would have me love them. Because I’m human my love will always be imperfect and my hallelujahs will always be cold and broken, but I have to trust that they will be enough.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)