Music is a very powerful force- from the beating of the percussion, to the depths of the bass, the lilting piano, the harmonies and melodies, and the lyrics- it is hard to not be moved by some sort of music. Like anything, there are good ways to use music and there are not-so-good ways, so having a discerning ear is important. Some people prefer only music that sings explicitly of Christ or is only instrumental- that is good! But if you’re like me (and St. Ignatius of Loyola) and like to find God in the unexpected places, if you can contemplate Him being in all things, even things that aren’t explicitly of Him, then you might enjoy this year’s list of secular songs that I hear God in (check out my list from last year here).
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel
Paul Simon wrote this song to comfort a friend going through a rough time and meant it as just a simple little song, but its universal appeal is evident and many artists have recorded or played covers of it. It speaks of someone always being there for you, especially in the dark times and especially when there is no one else. That’s God! That is God reaching out to us and carrying us and laying down His life for us. Jesus says in John 14:18 “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” This song also reminds me a lot of the Footprints in the Sand poem.
“He Lives in You” by The Lion King Broadway Cast
“He lives in you/He lives in me/He watches over/Everything we see”- does this not just scream God the Father?! God is always watching over us, always guiding us, and He lives within us through the gift of the Holy Spirit and also in the love and nourishment of the Eucharist. “In your reflection/He lives in you”- this reminds me that I am to be the light to the world, a little bearer of Christ to His world and His people. This song always gets me fired up for a new day, reminding me of my purpose on this earth.
“At the Bottom of Everything” by Bright Eyes
This song is a bit of a trip, so I am going to take you on a little trip to understand where I’m coming from. Years ago, I had just gotten back from a wedding and was talking with a friend about it on my birthday. I told him that, while flying to and from the wedding, I had this revelation that if the plane were to crash and I were to die that the world would keep going without me, and that I was completely peaceful about it! I said that I thought it was beautiful that, should God take me, the world would still go on, that it didn’t start and end with me, but with Him. My friend told me that this song reminded him of what I had realized. So, about the song, at the end of the beginning part where he is telling the story, the man tells the girl they’re going to her birthday part- an allusion that death is like re-birth, which is exactly how I imagine going from this life to the next to be like. Then the singer goes through all of these things that are focused solely on us- money, success, taking our own lives in fanaticism, property, etc. But then he gets to the end when he sings, “And then we’ll get down there, way down to the very bottom of everything and we’ll see it!” and this is where the transition of his understanding happens- it’s not about us! The last line of the song is, “I found out I am really no one” and that’s not meant to be depressing or self-deprecating but truthful, that we are not the beginning and the end, that life goes on without us or because of us. Taking that thought a little further, we can see that God is the beginning and the end and that we, in ourselves, may be nothing but He makes us everything because He is everything and He is in us. Really, the song is about humility and thus gives me great hope.
“Use Me Up” by Hanson
This song talks about wanting to feel….anything, really. It talks about the numbness that comes from life and the paralyzing fear that can accompany feeling like you don’t belong or are accepted but knowing that you have so much to give. I once told my spiritual director that I was weary and just wanted to feel anything again- well, be careful what you ask for! What I take from this song is the desire to pour yourself out, to not hold back, and that’s how I want to be running to God, because that’s how He loves me. Going off that, I also hear Jesus singing this song- He longs so much to give Himself entirely to us, if only we would let Him, if only we would accept Him. The chorus of the song also reminds me of this image:
“The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
This one is so straightforward that you can look it up in Matthew 17! Sufjan is a cool dude and artist and I love how this song blends a haunting, almost melancholy tune with this moment in the Gospels that is this huge revelation and BOOM! kind of moment! But that’s just it, even though it was this big moment in the life of Christ and the disciples, Jesus said, “Gotta come down the mountain guys. This isn’t everything,” and the disciples (Peter, especially) got kinda melancholy about it until they realized all that was foretold was happening right then.