Six Unintentionally Perfect Songs for Lent | Sojourners

Six Unintentionally Perfect Songs for Lent

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Lent is the angstiest season of the liturgical calendar: Jesus in the desert with the devil; us sitting with our sin and mortality. So below you’ll find six songs to accompany you this brooding, contemplative season. Soon, Easter will roll around and bring with it upbeat resurrection bops, but for now, the tunes are appropriately emo — at least lyrically. Some of you will be disappointed by the glaring lack of Dashboard Confessional and Paramore songs on this self-described emo playlist — but the emo of Lent is more existential than romantic. I hope you’ll listen anyway.

“River” by Leon Bridges

Leon Bridges is a soul artist in his 30s with a voice that sounds plucked from the 1950s. His 2015 song “River” takes us to the Jordan as he sings of sin and cleansing, perfect for the Lenten season that beckons us to reflect and renew our baptism.

Oh, I wanna come near and give ya
Every part of me
But there's blood on my hands
And my lips are unclean
In my darkness I remember
Momma's words reoccur to me
“Surrender to the good Lord
And he'll wipe your slate clean”
Take me to your river
I wanna go

“Hold You Dear” by The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters are a folk duo known for their always pristine, sometimes haunting harmonies. In this piano ballad, the steady harmonies of the chorus underscore the sentiment of the lyrics: One day we’ll be dust, but for now we are these beautiful fleshy things that can, and must, hold each other.

Oh, blessed mother and the father I adore
There is time upon your faces
I will cherish you until you leave me for your eternal holy places
And I will hold you dear
While my shadow's long and my eyes are clear
I know these days will pass away
So, I will hold you dear

“Dusty Trails” by Lucius

I didn’t just choose this song for the “dust” pun. In “Lent Is Grimness You Didn’t Know You Needed,Sojourners managing editor Julie Polter writes, “There are hints of resurrection in the lectionary readings, but the pain and destruction of dreams and life that comes before is given its full due.” I hear echoes of that wisdom in these Lucius lyrics: “Dusty trails can lead you to a golden road.” But you can’t walk on gold until you’ve walked on dust; you can’t have the joy of Easter until you’ve sat with the pain embedded in Lent.

It’s all a manual that we’ve been writing
A future instructional guide
If we skipped ahead to our pre-fulfilled dreams
We’d be lost without our own advice

“Life on Earth” by Hurray for the Riff Raff

Lent also brings sin to the forefront, both with the temptation of Jesus and our own susceptibility to sin: against God, those we love, those we don’t, and — on a global scale — creation. So I had to put a “nature punk” song on this playlist. In “Life on Earth,” the title track of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s latest album, Alynda Segarra juxtaposes the beauty of nature with the sins of humanity. It’s jarring and resonant:

Sky and the trees
And birds and the bees
Life on earth is long
Rivers and lakes
And floods and earthquakes
Life on earth is long

The man in the mask at the desk with a flask
Sings, “Life on earth is long”
And the girl in a cage with the moon in her eye
Sings, “Life on earth is long”

“No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers

This track is most prescient on Ash Wednesday, but it’ll sing well any day of Lent. “No Hard Feelings” is the most beautiful song about death that I know, and probably the most explicitly spiritual track on this list.

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest won't be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thought, love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

“This Time Tomorrow” by Brandi Carlile

Though Carlile has referred to “This Time Tomorrow” as a “beautiful little life-affirming lullaby,” I think it’s the perfect song for Maundy Thursday. It’s easy to picture a mother singing these lyrics to a child before bed; it’s also easy to imagine the words coming out of Jesus’ mouth at the last supper as he comforted his 12 friends about the terrible Friday on the horizon.

[O]ur holy dreams of yesterday aren’t gone
They still haunt us like the ghosts of Babylon
And the breaking of the day might bring you sorrow
You know I may not be around this time tomorrow
But I'll always be with you

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