lenten journal: songs in the key of lent


This has been one of those days when I have had music running through my head. It has also been a day of doing — of carrying out quotidian tasks — rather than reading or contemplating. So I offer songs tonight — a Lenten soundtrack of sorts — drawn from songs that have spoken to me or spoken for me over the last several months. In the spirit of the Psalms, these are songs than name feelings more than anything else, to acknowledge what is difficult and painful alongside of all that gives us hope.

First, a song of lament. Patty Griffin’s “Wild Old Dog,” which begins:

God is a wild old dog
someone left out on the highway . . .

What I hear in the song is the ache of grief. (She wrote the album after the death of her father.)

it’s lonely on the highway
sometimes a heart can turn to dust
get whittled down to nothing
broken down and crushed
in with the bones of
wild old dogs
wild old dogs

The honesty of our lament opens our hearts to the possibility of comfort and even healing. I love this song.

I suppose there are several Indigo Girls’ songs that would make my all-time playlist, but one to which I keep returning in these days is “All That We Let In.”

I pass the cemetery, walk my dog down there
I read the names in stone and say a silent prayer
when I get home, you’re cooking supper on the stove
and the greatest gift of life is to know love

Mavis Staples has so many songs of faith and feeling that we could rewrite the Psalms using just her stuff. Here she is singing Jeff Tweedy’s song, “You’re Not Alone.” (He’s the one playing guitar.) I find deep encouragement here.

a broken dream
a broken heart
isolated and afraid
open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
you’re not alone

John David Souther has written his fair share of the songs that make up the soundtrack of my life. This one, however, I didn’t know until just a couple of years ago: “Little Victories”

little victories
I know you need one
little victories
of the heart

they say that these are not the best of times

but they’re the only times I’ve ever known
and I believe there is a time for meditation

in cathedrals of our own

I’ll let Billy Joel’s “Summer Highland Falls” finish today’s playlist. The words in the first verse I found meaningful at several different stages of my life. I love that this video is a fresh recording. Both he and the song have aged fairly well.

The path through Lent is one of focus and faith, of trust and temerity, of wonder and weariness. It’s good to have songs to sing as we go.



  1. I’ve had Taize songs in my head all day. I’m so grateful that they replaced Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. That was with me for a week. I used to love filing music when I worked at church. I would be singing everything I filed. It was a good way to live.

  2. The songs that usually get stuck in my head are the ones from Thursday night choir practice (because of the mindfulness we bring to the singing, I think). The anthem for Sunday at our church is Mark Sirett’s ‘Thou Shalt Know Him’. It’s a good song to have stuck in there:

    Thou shalt know him when he comes,
    not by any din of drums,
    nor his manners, nor his airs,
    nor by anything he wears.

    Thou shalt know him when he comes,
    not by his crown or by his gown,
    but his coming known shall be
    by the holy harmony which his coming
    makes in thee.

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