Jenn Knight sat watching her daughter, Madi, in her latest fight during her battle against brain cancer. Madi had been put on immunotherapy treatment and it seemed she might be having an adverse reaction to her medication. She encouraged Madi to sing a song, a kid friendly version of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” to take her mind off her pain. It was then that Jenn Knight realized that one line in the classic tune described the way she felt about her love for Jesus Christ.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: [In] the little bit that I've read about Madi she seems like such a special person, and you shared some of those special moments that your family experienced. And you talked about how her teacher had taught her to sing this kid friendly version of the song “Hallelujah.” And as she lay fighting for life, she started to sing that song, and you wrote this, which I thought was so beautiful.
You said, “So much of what we celebrate of Christ and His mission on earth is joyful. But sacred are the moments that allow us to capture a glimpse of Gethsemane and what that joy cost our Savior. It felt holy in that room as she sang, and for the first time that night, I cried. Not out of fear, but out of gratitude. The original song says that ‘love is a cold and a broken Hallelujah,’ and after feeling this moment, I think that is just the most beautiful and poetic way of describing a love for Christ.”
I was intrigued by that, so I wondered—why would you say a love for Christ is a cold and a broken hallelujah?
Jenn Knight: That night was so surreal. Just for a little bit of context for people who haven’t read the blog, we had put our daughter on this new medication because the traditional chemo wouldn’t work with her genetic mutation, and so it was this immunotherapy. We knew it was a long shot, but it was the only shot we had. And one of the side effects was brain hemorrhage. Well—it could be.
So we had just come home from trick or treating. We were sitting there and all of a sudden, I saw that my daughter was like, not talking. And then she started talking gibberish and she didn’t know how old she was or what year it was, and then she started to vomit. And it was just—it was really terrifying, because we thought we were losing her, you know, again. And we thought her brain was hemorrhaging.
So my husband took her to the hospital while I gathered some of her stuff and tried to calm down the rest of my kids, which is another story as well, and a moment in my life when I felt the tangible help of the Savior in my home. Anyway, so [I] got all that together, went to the hospital, and funny enough, her biggest fear—my daughter who had brain cancer—her biggest fear was needles, not dying. Not the brain cancer; it was needles.
And so we went to the hospital and she had to get this injection and like right away, so we could figure out what’s going on and help her and they could not find a vein. And so they took an ultrasound machine and they were trying to find one with the needle. And she was in a lot of pain and [was] terrified.
And the thing that came to mind was this song that she had been learning with her voice teacher, Diane Pritchett, who was volunteering her time to come every week and help her. And so I said, “Madi, why don’t you sing the song? You can belt it out as loud as you want.” And … so she did. As they were digging this needle into her arm, she started belting out “Hallelujah” and she was saying all the lyrics and she said, you know, “It’s a cold and it’s [a] broken Hallelujah.”
And … it just hit me for the first time, really, like … you know, I think there’s a limit to how deeply we can really come to know the Savior if we’re only identifying with Him in our moments of peace and love and happiness. Like, the real grit of our discipleship is reaching out to Him when we hit the bottom. And when we recognize that our own limitations are holding us back, and there is no other way out, there is no other way we can go, and we call to Him, and we know that He’s the only one that could possibly understand or help.
And I mean, the help and the feelings that we receive are so hard to pin down, they’re so oblique…but they come, right? Like it reminds me of that passage in the Book of Mormon from Alma, when he’s [in his] … coma for these three days, and he just says that he’s racked with torment, but then he remembers Jesus Christ. He remembers Him and he cries to Him and it’s like he’s completely released. It’s like this hallelujah, you know, like, “Hallelujah, thank you.” Like, “It is cold and broken here and you’re the only one who can help me get out of it.” And it just touched me so much, watching my 12 year old sing this … in her moment of greatest pain and anguish, singing—literally shouting—"Hallelujah.” It was so profound for me.