I honestly didn’t know what to expect: whether it would be full of spiritual songs about the purifying, humility-inducing experience of suffering; or if I would stick entirely to tragic love songs as this period of the narrative covers my own failures in that arena; or if maybe it would speak of the simple anger that comes from seasons of confusion and darkness.
In the end, I sort-of got all three.
Oh Great God, Give Us Rest | David Crowder*Band
One of my favorite tracks from a favorite band of yesteryear. I still remember getting the email announcing they would be releasing one more album and then disbanding. They weren’t even going to tour in support of the work. It would simply be released and then . . . David Crowder*Band would go away.
So much goes into this song’s meaning for me and its placement as the first track in the Lenten portion of the list.
First, the disbanding of my favorite band was a personal blow. Not only did they put on a fantastic show, but their albums were just about the only Christian music I was able to stomach at the time (or that I was willing to lead as a worship pastor). Their disappearance created much more of an internal crisis than I’m comfortable admitting.
Secondly, the lyrics themselves speak of being worn thin from all of this. It’s a simple plea for God’s light to break through the darkness so often obscuring anything good in this world. I also appreciate that the lyrics take responsibility for the ills of the world—well I’ve done my part, too, well I guess––and that feeling of being irreparably warped—a crooked heart twisted up like mine—many of us feel (especially coming from the evangelical purity culture).
It, like so many songs I led as a worship pastor, is a simple plea for light in a life that too often feels dark beyond hope. A fitting entrance into the “bright sadness” of Lent.
Dust We Are And Shall Return | The Brilliance
These words are taken nearly verbatim from the Ash Wednesday liturgy during the imposition of ashes—one of the most deeply moving moments in any church experience.
It was certainly a meaningful moment for me, personally, to have the ashes of last year’s celebration placed on my forehead and to think on mortality and my smallness in all the vast cosmos, but it is even more compelling to watch these same ashes be put upon your spouse’s forehead, and then your children’s.
As a naturally melancholy person, considering my mortality is nothing new to me. However, it is another thing entirely to look upon the faces of the innocents to whom I have helped give life—those for whom I would gladly die—and recognize that they, too, will once again return to dust.
In that vein, I have always understood the call to give glory to God as less thanking the Divine for death, but rather accepting the cycle of life for what it is, and that our willing participation in life and death––receiving the gift for as long as we have it, and then offering it back up––puts us in harmony with all things.
Oh My God | Jars of Clay
Even as a youth, I gladly received the knowledge that it was okay for humans to cry out to God in anger—the psalmists, as well as many of the prophets, did as much—but I always heard it more in the line of a tantrum that would soon abate. The puny human would say angry things to God, then God would fix everything, and the human would apologize, praising the deliverance.
But that is woefully inadequate to our needs (and a poor interpretation to boot).
When dashed against the hard rocks of the world, forced to weather the suffering of so many people, the logical response is to cry out in anger, to storm and rage against the cruel, needless pain felt by all in small and great, heart-rending ways; it is to, above all else, to cry out.
Perhaps no song better encapsulates this cry in all its anguish and confusion than, “Oh My God,” taken from one of the best albums by another one of my favorite bands from way back. This deeply unsettling song begins musically quite simple and lyrically broad. However, about halfway through, lead singer Dan Haseltine quits with the metaphors and begins to bluntly list all of the people who, for various reasons, say, “Oh my god”—from liars and fools, to fearful mothers and saviors.
But then comes the build.
The music swells and the plangent cries of all that is broken and bent in this world are spoken with increasing volume and speed, as though listing the charges brought against God (and yet, there is also a recognition that we are the ones whose choices make this world possible), finally coming to the open-ended deceptive cadence as the vocals scream out the heart-stopping cry, oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!
Rootless Tree | Damien Rice
This song is likely the most lyrically difficult for some to swallow, as the chorus begins with an angry cry of fuck you!––but I believe it is an important element of the Lenten experience.
Damien Rice (who will reappear later in this post) is himself processing the breaking of past relationships in which he once felt secure and, while I am directing the anger towards God in my reading, it is the rawness I so appreciate.
Because sometimes God is a dick.
Sometimes, life is simply too much for us, and all we want is for the Divine (or those claiming to represent it) to just leave us the fuck alone because it’s quite frankly hell when you’re around. So, as the weight of life leans heavily against us like a rootless tree, not letting us move on, we just need to be angry and let it out.
Venus | Planetarium
Following “Rootless Tree’s” sharp turn, we’ll continue veering off the spiritual track we were on with the beginning of this season. On “Venus”, Sufjan Stevens and company2 sing an erotic homage to sexuality and the Greek goddess typically associated with such desires.
As this portion of the narrative covers my own inconstancy, it seemed this tune wrestling with the goddess of love—who on more than one occasion, casts spells of amorous desire on hapless mortals—fit well. When one looks back on such episodes of their lives, it’s typical to wonder what in the world you were thinking and doing and, without relinquishing the blame, still wonder if you were somehow bewitched.
(Also, this song uses “callipygian,” a word attributed to Aphrodite and literally meaning “the one with the nice ass.”)
Do I Wanna Know? | Arctic Monkeys
The lead song from one of my favorite albums, “Do I Wanna Know?” opens the general theme of obsessive, uncertain love that runs throughout AM.
This song is just cool, with its slow, driving beat and simple, badass guitar––is about as sexy a tune rock can make. …but it also speaks to my experience, that thudding, metronomic desire tinged with dark forbiddenness.
In my moments of deepest obsession and illegitimate love, I know the inner conflict of wanting so badly to know whether feelings are reciprocated while not daring (in my case, for really good reasons) to ask.
Until I did.
Then I know the loneliness pushing me from what is known to that which is (rightly) forbidden––then the lowering of inhibitions, and the obsessive thinking about calling when you’ve had a few.
My Favorite Faded Fantasy | Damien Rice
Another Damien Rice tune,3 this title track to his third and long-awaited return to music opens the album theme of recognizing and in some way “honoring” past love for what it is, then trying to move on.
I found the first step of moving on was to honor the love––wrong and inappropriate though it was. Without allowing the moment of grief and acceptance of what was and what could no longer be, I would simply remain in a perpetual state of tragic pining after fantasy. Thankfully, Mikala patiently waited for me to move on, trusting I would someday turn to her.4
And so I let the fantasy work its way out, first allowing myself to believe this person would be my favorite taste, face, name, place . . . then realizing they were in fact my favorite fantasy––accepting that the image I had built up, the future I had built in my head were in fact based on pure imagination, fantasy.
Then, honoring the experience and the feelings, I had to let it fade.
Autumn Love | Death Cab For Cutie
I mean, you can’t have a playlist with a section dedicated to whiny, lost love without Death Cab can you?
The title of the song immediately attracted me as autumn is my favorite season, but I won’t burden you with metaphors heaped in piles of gold and red, radiating the intoxicating scent of endings and entranced failings carried on the coming wind of winter’s biting chill (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). This particular season of the year was for a time intimately connected to this season of life, not only because it was when everything began, but because the feeling “in the air” as it were, was felt internally.
Yet this time, like autumn, did not last forever. I remember when I finally could step out on a beautiful fall day, breathe deeply, and not be reminded of my favorite fantasy. At some point, I realized this love so infused with the tragic beauty of autumn would simply not be enough, and when I finally felt the truth of that statement, I allowed the past to fall like so many brightly colored leaves, and remain fallen.
2. Including Bryce Dessner of The National↩
3. Strangely, neither of his songs I’ve selected come from his first multi-platinum selling album, O.↩
4. “Thankfully” may be the understatement of the year. It’s a goddamn miracle––a move of superhuman hope and love.↩