Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

About a week ago I realized that as I went through the parts of the liturgy, I had skipped one of the great moments -- the Alleluia. It seemed only fitting to go back to that today, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

(And let me say in advance, most of what I have to say here comes from this great post. You might enjoy it.)

We say Alleluia, but the original form of the word is Hallelujah, which consists of two Hebrew words: Halal (the verb) and jah. Generally we translate halal as "to praise"; it's an imperative. That is to say, hallelujah is a request -- everybody, get up there and get with the praisin'.

And this isn't the pat-on-the-shoulder, nice-going, kid form of praise, but something much more exuberant. You know those services you see on television where people start crying "Amen" and you realize you've suddenly started holding onto something a little too tightly? That's the kind of joy we're talking about when we use the word hallal, something a little bit crazy. According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, hallal involves acting madly or foolishly.

Now, lest that sound like yet another extrovert trying to run the world, halal can also mean "to shine". It was a word sometimes ascribed to the stars.

And jah is the first half of the name God told Moses -- Ya-H, as in Yahweh. I am who am.

So, Hallelujah can mean "praise God" or -- a nice alternative, especially at Christmas -- "shine with (or perhaps like) God". And maybe then the life of Jesus gives us an example of what that means, what shining with God looks like.

For those of you whose Christmas looks less than fabulous, one more little point you might like. According to some interpretations, there's a reason the word hallelujah doesn't use the whole name of God, namely, because the world still has problems and burdens and troubles and evil lurking around. It's incomplete. As long as that's the case, so is God's name.

Some day, we'll offer some other, more perfect kind of praise. For now, we celebrate what grace our world has experienced already, the ways in corruption and prejudice and malice have collapsed. And the expectation of something more, the expectation we relish in Advent, continues....

Have a Merry Christmas.


Convenor said...

We would be very glad if you could let your readers know about our blog:

You would be most welcome to link/follow/blogroll to it.

Would you mind letting them know about the latest issue of our newsletter:

It might also be interesting to read the latest installment of our series on the traditional customs of Sweden:

Happy Christmas!

St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association (Ireland)

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

I'll note it on the blog! Thanks for the post! I look forward to reading the blog. Cheers!