"Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the 'economy' of charity...
charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth." - B16

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten Secular Songs with Religious Themes

While preparing songs for our retreats and coffee house ministries this summer, I have come across many by secular artists -- that is, musicians who don't self-categorize as belonging to genres of religious music -- which were nonetheless powerfully spiritual. This is my top ten list from past and present.


1. Along with "Broken Wings", Mr. Mister's song "Kyrie" was the best from their 1985 album Welcome to the Real World. This band disappeared too soon after a string of hits. Their lead singer, Richard Page, was a powerful singer as "Kyrie" demonstrates effectively:



2. Alternative rock band Collective Soul's hit song "Shine" from the 1990s:



3. Oasis "Wonderwall" from 1995 may be about God or a person that will be instrumental in the singer's salvation; in any case, it's a plaintive cry, as eloquent as any psalm. If a prayer, then many lines take on particular poignancy, and the song ends with a hope for being saved. A question: what's a wonderwall?


There is also a very good acoustic cover of "Wonderwall" by Ryan Adams, which was once nominated for a Grammy award.

4. Dave Matthews Band "Where are You Going?" from 2002 has always evoked for me the Gospel scene of the two disciples running after Jesus. It could very well be a song about discipleship, then, the desire to be with the Master:



See also Dave Matthew's "The Christmas Song", for a most unusual but, in my opinion, soulful throwback to the story of Christ's birth.

5-6. U2 usually ends its concerts with the song "40", a song derived from Psalm 40. In the following video, they finish a concert from their 2005 tour with two of their religious-themed songs, "Yahweh" and "40" -- my favourite being "Yahweh". The Irish rockers are an established super-band, evidenced by the adulation of the stadium crowd, but they have always given the last word to God the Father. Note Bono hanging his rosary on the mic stand at the end:


7. The imagery in Coldplay's anthem "Viva la Vida" is eclectic, but in it, the protagonist recalls his former life in which he was domineering, powerful, reckless and feared, and then, by way of dispossession and poverty, found spiritual redemption. Now he has visions of glory and the hope of eternal life, celebrated with great jubilation:



Coldplay's songs "Fix You" and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" also strike me as having religious overtones.

8. Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will", sung live in London in 2009. The Montreal poet-singer digs deep into his heart and sings his availability to the Lord:


Cohen's 2012 album Old Ideas is full of profound songs. See especially "Come Healing".

9. The British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons extraordinary "Awake My Soul" from their 2010 album Sigh No More:



10. Paul Simon's "Love is Eternal Sacred Light" from his marvellous 2011 album So Beautiful or So What. A tribute to the eternal origins of love, contrasted with the demonic evil of darkness. The whole album is excellent, his best work since Graceland.


A list like this can only be subjective, of course, but I've seen depth in all of these songs. I may have missed some gems, but these ones stick out.

10 comments:

  1. These are some great songs - I especially like the Mumford and Sons one. I think the link for the Collective Soul song isn't working though. Cheerio.
    Liz

    PS. You might also like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vtp-p7qFI2I

    It's one of my favorites.

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    1. Thanks for the notice, Liz: the Collective Soul link is renewed and working.

      "Be Still" by The Fray is a deep and soothing song. Great scriptural overtones. Thanks for pointing me to it - I'm going to add it to our repertoire for the Hearts on Fire retreats.

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  2. Thanks for this post! It made my day. What an awesome band U2 is. I've always found their "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to be a profoundly spiritual song, in a world where people too easily settle for ends other than God.

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    1. Yes, they are awesome indeed. ISHFWILF used to be sung on this young adult retreat tour, and one of the speakers would use it to illustrate "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee"... Although there's the verse referring to Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, followed by "but I still haven't found what I'm looking for" refrain, which implied to my ear that knowing Jesus hadn't fulfilled the protagonist. Yet others have said this simply illustrates that head knowledge of Jesus is inadequate, as well as that we will always in this life be searching for the God who is always "greater".

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    2. Yes, I incline towards something like the second interpretation. The lines: "You broke the bonds / And you loosed the chains / Carried the cross / Of my shame" clearly do refer to Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, as you say. But even if we accept that sacrifice, that's only the beginning, isn't it? Christ removed the barrier between us and God -- something negative. But to grow in love with Him, to have a positive relationship, that's the work of a lifetime. And of course that loving union is only completely achieved in the hereafter.

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    3. Yes, this is true. It's also the focus of our Hearts on Fire retreats this summer -- helping young people, by way of simple spiritual tools, learn about the love of God for them, knowledge of which is necessary before we can really love God back!

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  3. Wonderwall is from 1995, not 2002.

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    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I was going with the Ryan Adam's cover, I believe when I first posted that. Date amended.

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  4. Music lifts the soul..... and even the Gregorian chants have been great hits in the secular world. Many atheists admit to loving these chants.
    Thanks for sharing Fr. John.

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  5. Fr. John,

    Some good choices, I agree with your number one. How about something older, England Dan and John Ford Coley's Love is the Answer?

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