I woke up grumpy this morning… not your average, garden-variety grumpy but the truly pernicious grumpy reserved for Sunday mornings with too little sleep. I know myself well enough by now to treat church as a soul-gobbling monster on these mornings—respect it by backing sloooowwwly away. Or run away screaming like the flighty blonde in a B-movie. Unfortunately, neither was an option this morning as my in-laws’ church group met at their house.
The caustic dialogue in my head jump-started with the first song. Why are we singing that? What does this even mean? Am I supposed to get something out of this? That line isn’t even true! And on it went, while I tried to move my unwilling lips along with the lyrics for appearance’s sake.
This disconnect with worship music is a fairly recent development. Church and I have had sundry problems over the years, but music was always my saving grace. When I was a child, a teen, a college student, and a budding world traveler, worship music was the alchemy that transformed divinity into something dear. Through it, I could feel God’s warmth. But now… Honesty, or maybe an earnest kind of cynicism, keeps me unable to sing along with church choruses. The words catch in my throat and slap against my ears. My connection with worship music is gone.
Or at least what most people consider worship music. In collaboration with the lovely Rachelle, a pioneer in soul sincerity, I’d like to share eight songs that connect me to the divine… now.
1. Cold Water by Damien Rice
This song has to be first. It is raw and tender and fierce and so perfectly honest. Damien Rice has a gift for reaching deep down into unknown vulnerabilities and coaxing dry emotions into a flood; try making it through the Buddhist chanting at 5:34 or the cello at 7:04 without breaking open just a little bit.
“Cold, cold water surrounds me now,
And all I’ve got is your hand.
Lord, can you hear me now?”
2. Dance ‘Round the Memory Tree by Oren Lavie:
I put this song on repeat nearly every day of this past winter, and on some of the bleakest mornings, it alone kept me turned toward life, future, and the magic of hope.
“Winters have come and gone, you know…”
3. I Gotta Find Peace of Mind by Lauryn Hill
My friend Q introduced me to Ms. Hill’s “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0” in college, and this song has yet to release its grip on me. At its most simple, it makes me want to love God. And when Lauryn cries while singing “What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, merciful God” 8 minutes in… the beauty is almost too real to bear.
“Please come free my mind,
Please come feed my mind.
Can you see my mind, ohhh…
Won’t you come free my mind?
Oh, I know it’s possible…”
4. Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek
When I haven’t found the courage to pray over the past few years, this song has prayed on my behalf. It has all the gritty candor and fearful longing of those uncharted territories of religion, and I find myself meaning every single word.
“Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie?
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die?”
5. What Child is This Anyway? by Sufjan Stevens
Three Christmases ago, I was frantically busy with a job I hated, and the holiday loomed like a garlanded menace. I put Sufjan’s Christmas CD on, fully expecting to dislike this song as I always had before, and instead found peace.
“This, this is Christ the king,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing…”
6. Christmas Song by Dave Matthews Band
Yes, another Christmas song… but really an Easter song and a Thanksgiving song and 4th of July song and a Sunday morning song and a 2:00 in the afternoon song and one of the best Bible summaries I’ve ever heard.
“Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers,
Searching for love, love, love…”
7. Live High by Jason Mraz
Sometimes I need a reminder that spirituality does not need to equal stress; it can be as chill as walking down the streets of France with a guitar and a comfy hat.
“Live high, live mighty,
Live righteously, that’s right—
Just takin’ it easy…”
8. World Without End by Five Iron Frenzy
This song might be the polar opposite of Damien Rice, but it reaches the part of me that loves concerts and Goodwill t-shirts and too many friends crowded into the booth at Denny’s. Somehow, sweaty horns and cracking voices convey more of the sacred to me than pipe organs ever could.
“In the soundless awe and wonder,
Words fall short to hope again.
How beautiful, how vast your love is,
World without an end…”
Play along, won’t you? I’d love to hear what songs feed your soul as well.