I’ve curated a list of five songs that have become worship songs for me. They were not written for that purpose. I do not know about the spiritual life of most of the artists but they are each spiritual in their way. I’m fairly certain they would not pass our denominational doctrinal test — not that they would even want to take such a test.
Belle and Sebastian - "Ghost of Rock School”
Belle and Sebastian is a Scottish indie band led by Stuart Murdoch. I’m not sure what the song is about but the chorus is this repeat: “I've seen God in the sun. I’ve seen God in the street. God before bed and the promise of sleep. God in my dreams and the free ride of grace. I see God shining up from her reflection.” In that chorus, Stuart Murdoch recognizes God’s presence all around him.
T-Bone Burnett - “The Trap Door”
I discovered T-Bone Burnett in college (mid-80’s). This song is special to me as reminder to “watch out for the trapdoor.” Listen careful—very carefully—to the lyrics. It’s as good a mini-sermon about dying to self and the dangers of pride as you’ll ever hear. He wins the award for best name: T-Bone.
Leonard Cohen and the Webb Sisters - “If It Be Your Will”
This may be one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It’s written by Leonard Cohen and sung by the “sublime” Webb Sisters. I read that Cohen was sort of a Jewish-Zen-Buddhist-poet-monk. No matter what, there’s no doubt he’s aware of The Transcendent. He made a musical comeback when he was in his 70’s, touring internationally, filling large venues include DPAC. I first heard this song then—it’s a prayer.
Sufjan Stevens - “The Greatest Gift”
Sufjan Stevens is a talented, creative artist. Helen (my wife) and I saw him at DPAC a few years ago. As with all these artists, I could have picked any number of songs to profile. This— “The Greatest Gift”— is the most explicitly Christian on my list. He also has a wonderfully quirky Christmas album. Check it out.
Mountain Goats - “Romans 10:9”
The Mountain Goats is mainly the lead guy, John Darnielle. Helen and I saw him in concert about a year ago. The crowd ranged from young lesbian goths, hipsters, and the middle-aged. He’s “into” heavy metal (I’m not), nearly died from a meth addiction as a young man, worked as a psychiatric nurse for a while, and wrote two award winning novels. He grew up on the West Coast but now lives in Durham. This song—Romans 10:9—is from an album where each songs is (loosely) inspired by a biblical passage. I love his lyrics and word pictures. You can tell his dad was an English professor.
Acknowledgements: I must thank my four kids (Kevin, Sarah, Will and Stephen) who introduced me to most of these artists and many others.
Markt Atkinson is an Elder at Trinity Park. He lives in Cary with his wife Helen.