In my last entry, I talked about why it was so hard to find songs of lament in churches.
This is certainly a complex topic and I have so many more thoughts on it, but I know that people are itching to find some songs of lament. Here are 7 songs that I wanted to share. I’m going to talk a little bit about each song and where/why I used it.
I have many songs that I can put on this list, both scared and secular (hello, hip hop!) but I’m just listing ones that either I’ve done at church, at a conference, or with Menders at a conference, which hopefully means it’s in the range of possibilities for your church or for your worship service. One of them is not a singable song, but more of a listening/art piece.
Rain On Us – Earnest Pugh (gospel, slow)
Earnest Pugh has one of the greatest gospel voices I’ve ever heard. There’s so much emotion behind his voice and his range is just ridiculous. Menders has sung this song over the years and the harmonies just grip me.
This song is a cry of desperation to the Lord to purify us and send his spirit down to shower down, shower down, shower down on us. It’s more about the way the song musically suggests desperation, less about the lyrics talking about/expressing lament. You have to listen to it! Technically, this song is not extremely hard to play and uses the same progression over and over again if you listen carefully. If your musicians have gospel chops it should be no problem. You will need some strong voices, though.
Desert Song – Hillsong (CCM rock, moderate tempo, full band or acoustic)
When this song came along there were a number of women in my community experiencing pain over infertility. This was all very new to me, and I wasn’t sure how to walk with them in this pain. But the imagery in this song helped people name some of what they were going through. The words to the chorus of singing praise and rejoicing even when all you see around you is a barren wasteland makes me stop and reflect on what exactly it means to trust the Lord and hold on to the promises in times of lament. How do you rejoice when you can’t see straight? In every season, He is God and we have a reason to worship.
This song is available in the CCLI and SongSelect databases. It shouldn’t be too hard to find and is technically easy to play/sing.
Sánanos [Heal Us] – Marcos Witt (CCM ballad, Spanish language, slow)
We introduced this song at my church about a month ago, and our mostly non-Spanish speaking congregation members really loved it and sang it whole-heartedly. The chorus is translated:
Heal us, heal us
It is the prayer of your people, humbled before you
Save us, Save us
It is the prayer of your children, kneeling before you
The rest of the lyrics are really powerful, and I’m glad to share them with you if you contact me! This is technically easy, and the lyrics are relatively easy to sing due to repetition and tempo of the song.
Rivers of Babylon – The Melodians (reggae, moderate tempo)
This song is directly a quote from Psalm 137, a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. ”By the rivers of Babylon-there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”(Psalm 137:1, NRSV). I got this song idea from my friend Pastor Richard Pak during our second year of leading worship at the Duke Summer Institute. I actually like the juxtaposition of a laid back reggae sound with the words of lament on top of it, and I’m not sure why exactly. But this can be great if all your other songs of lament are all the same tempo and same intensity.
This song is 2 chords and the truth. Once you get the reggae rhythm down, you’re good to go.
Take Me to the King – Tamela Mann (gospel, slow)
My friend Brian of Menders sang this song a cappella, and it was chilling. “Truth is I’m tired…Take me to the King… my heart’s torn in pieces…” The lyrics convey weariness, deep hurt and confusion, and a longing for redemption through the cross.
The chord structure is a little more challenging than a I-IV-V-I deal so you’ll need some musicians with gospel chops. If you can sing it a cappella (without instruments) as a meditation it would be great. Or buy the sheet music.
Purge Me – Urban Doxology (urban, moderate tempo)
Arrabon, headed up by my friend David Bailey, hosts an urban songwriting internship every summer, and this song is one of the best to come out of the intern’s work thus far. It is recorded by the talented Urban Doxology group.
The song is not technically difficult, with the exception of the duet harmonies in the second half of the song.
“Quartet for the End of Time: III. Abime Des Oiseaux” [Abyss of Birds] – Olivier Messiaen (classical; quartet)
“Totentanz” [Dance of Death] -Darfur Camps (2004) – Margaret Adams Parker (art on woodcuts)
I could go on and on about how Messaien is one of my all-time favorite composers. He composed music mostly from his faith context, and his compositions are complex, intense, and divine. I could listen to his pieces for hours. They are also extremely hard to play – I know this because I tried and tried in college and it was just too difficult to pull off because of my very small hands and short fingers. I liken his pieces to how heaven was described in C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce.” His compositions paint a stark, vivid, and brilliant imagery of the gospel. I really could go on and on about him.
On the day of lament at the Duke Summer Institute for Reconciliation one year, Professor Ellen Davis gave a stirring lecture on lament and showed some depictions through artwork. The art was beautifully haunting but also difficult to absorb in the classroom, so I decided to show the images again during evening worship and play the mp3 of the third movement of Messaian’s “Quartet for the End of Time” which he composed as a prisoner of war in WWII.
Putting this list together is bringing up powerful memories of personal and corporate lament during these worship moments, and I’m haunted yet blessed by the gift (not disturbance) of lament. And I connect them to the current context of what is happening in our communities and lives today.
I’m happy to share with you lyric/chord sheets (the ones that I have and are authorized to give to you), so contact me if you’d like more info. Thank you!