lenten journal: soul music


When I asked for words to ponder during Lent, one friend offered two: soul music.

As I started thinking about it, I began to think of songs, though not necessarily Motown. I began to think of songs that have spoken to me in recent times–some old, some new. Tonight, then, I offer a Lenten soundtrack of sorts. The first is from Kris Kristofferson: “Feeling Mortal.” The chorus says,

God Almighty here I am
am I where I ought to be
I’ve begun to soon descend
like the sun into the sea
and I thank my lucky stars
from here to eternity
for the artist that you are
and the man you made of me

The next is from Sarah Jarosz and it’s a cover of a Tom Waits song called “Come On Up to the House.”

well the moon is broken
and the sky is cracked
come on up to the house
the only things that you can see
is all that you lack
come on up to the house

all your cryin don’t do no good
come on up to the house
come down off the cross
we can use the wood
come on up to the house


Peter Mayer is a singer-songwriter whom I have come to appreciate in recent years, though he has been around for awhile. His song “Holy Now” is a call to look at life in wonder.

when holy water was rare at best
it barely wet my fingertips
but now I have to hold my breath
like I m swimming in a sea of it
it used to be a world half there
heaven s second rate hand-me-down
but I walk it with a reverent air
cause everything is holy now

Mavis Staples is a prophet of a singer, and this song speaks of the love that will not let us go: “You Are Not Alone.”

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

Our closing hymn is a song Paul Simon wrote in the mid-seventies, and yet it sings as though it were written yesterday. Here is “American Tune.”

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
for lived so well so long
still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

Sing to the night, my friends. We don’t sing alone.



  1. Soul music is more than Memphis or Al Green or Otis Redding and it comes from anyone, any place, and at any time. Blues may be “a good man feelin’ bad” and country may be “a man a guitar and pain”, but soul to me is always about joy in the moment, whatever that moment is. “I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers comes on and makes my heart feel good even after all this time, just for one example.

  2. Milton, Brigid’s daughter Clementine fell asleep in my arms yesterday while I was humming “Amazing Grace”. I was thinking about your love for “old time” hymns. I hope you find the peace I felt in that moment. Music fills our hearts. Thanks for the song list.

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