Throughout the season of Advent, Christmas music (for better or worse) blares at us everywhere we go. That means, for those of us who preach/lead worship/make church happen, we stay in a nearly constant state of season-mindfulness. Whether we like it or not. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we cannot escape the fact that Christmas is coming.
The season of Lent has not quite seeped into secular culture in the same saturating way. Where is the soundtrack for Holy Week? How are we to ‘get in the mood’ for the upper room, the last words, the empty tomb at sunrise?
Until Nashville gives us “A Cash Family Good Friday,” or Hollywood releases “A Very Lohan Easter Drama,” then we have to make this particular playlist for ourselves. Which is what I do on the blog each year. Here is a bit of what I will be listening to as I break bread, walk the labyrinth, prepare my sermon and don’t get much sleep this week. I hope it helps you dance into the darkness, and back out again.
1. The Avett Brothers, “The Carpenter.” As their fans know, one of the band members is living through the very serious illness of his 2-year-old daughter. The struggle with mortality is woven through nearly every song on this album. But so is a deeply pervasive sense of hope, joy, and life itself. I play through the whole thing, over and over, but especially apt for this week are “Live or Die,” (might even use this video in Easter worship) and “Paul Newman vs. the Demons.”
2. Singer/songwriter Matt Belsante is my brother’s brother-in-law (follow that?). He recorded “Just a Call Away” for his good friend Jeremy, who recently lost his wife. The song explores God’s perspective, watching over this family in their time of loss. It will break your heart–in the best possible Holy Week kind of way. Also, the proceeds from your $1.99 download go to support the 5 daughters–one of whom is a newborn.4. Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out” makes my list every year. Because it really is hard to dance with a devil on your back.
5. It has to be said–Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait.”Maybe you’re sick of it, and maybe you’re too cool to like a band so mainstream, but that doesn’t diminish the electric expectation that runs all through this driving melody.
6. Go for a ride on this broken “Merry Go ‘Round.” Even if it’s not your style, and even if you don’t hate your life–what are you hooked on, and why? “And just like dust, we settle in this town…”
7. Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls.)” Because I just need a little extra mojo for the marathon this week. If you’re a dude, maybe try a little JT to get your a-game groove on. Or your Easter “Suit and Tie,” as it were…
8. And finally, I love me some vintage Whitney Houston. “I Look to You” is both a practical reminder that we can’t do it all; and a spiritual practice of trusting God in the face of death and darkness. Also, this song takes on a new bittersweet dimension when you stop and think, ‘damn…she died.’
Like so many gifted artists, gone before their time, Whitney’s life bears witness to the power of music. Music picks up the story when words fall short; music speaks the truth of a broken soul; music invites us to glimpse the sacred, even in the most secular and profane places imaginable. Music lives long after the singer, the song-writer, the conductor and the producer have passed from this life to the next. And in that spirit, music– sustaining the sacred chord–carries us through to Sunday.
Winter storms have come and darkened my sun
After all that I’ve been through, Who on earth can I turn to?
I look to you, I look to you
And when melodies are gone, in you I hear a song…