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Secular Hymnody

April 21, 2010

While at Eden Theological Seminary’s Spring Convocation I got a real backlog of ideas for this blog (but a shortage of time for other reasons). While I was a student I got a reputation for finding sacred songs in unlikely places, and for singing them in chapel.

There’s enough process theologian in me that I wince at the notion of separating sacred and secular – I truly believe that God is imminent as well as transcendent, and is in and through all things.  (I feel the same way about natural vs. supernatural, which is another blog post altogether).   But for the purposes of this discussion let’s call it Secular Hymnody – songs of faith found on albums not targeted at specifically Christian audiences.

Anyway, a good pal suggested that I put together a list of secular hymns and post it as an iMix.  I’d really like to do just that, but I would like to have some suggestions from you as well.  If you’ve picked up a CD and found a song of faith or prayer, please let me know in the comments.

Here are some of my favorites off the top of my head:

  1. Power of the Gospel – Ben Harper
  2. Nothing But The Water (Parts 1 & 2) – Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
  3. Someday – Los Lobos
  4. Heaven – Los Lonely Boys
  5. Jesus Was an Only Son – Bruce Springsteen
  6. That Was Me – Todd Snider (a Matthew 25 song in disguise!)
  7. Somebody’s Comin’ – Todd Snider
  8. In The Lord’s Arms – Ben Harper
  9. Jesus on the Mainline – Ry Cooder
  10. God Was In The Water – Bonnie Raitt
  11. Lord Protect My Child – Susan Tedeschi (Bob Dylan)
  12. Judas ‘Scariot Blues – The Band of Heathens
  13. Mercy Now – Mary Gauthier

I plan on updating this grooveshark playlist periodically as the songs become available.

Check ’em out by clicking here!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2010 6:08 pm

    One of my new favorites is “One Voice” by the Wailin’ Jennies (

  2. Matt permalink
    April 21, 2010 6:33 pm

    Indestructible – Matisyahu : (Hint, it’s Psalm 27). You can listen by going here :

    Jerusalem – Matisyahu : watch the video here :

    Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, as performed by either Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley , or four guys from European Idol :

    Mary – Patty Griffin :

    Angel Dream – Tom Petty :

    Redemption Song – Bob Marley :

    A Message, and In My Place – Coldplay

    My Own Two Hands – Jack Johnson & Ben Harper :

    Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet : Gavin Bryars’ composition based on melody/words from an unknown homeless person, version with Tom Waits.

  3. April 22, 2010 10:26 am

    The last two Maundy Thursdays, we’ve done “To Make You Feel My Love” as recorded by Billy Joel (written by Bob Dylan). Last year we did it while Communion was being served, and had a montage of cross and crucifixion images on the screen. This year, I think we made it more effective by having four youth dressed in black strip the Communion table, cover it with a black cloth, bring out the shrouded cross, and on the last two lines — the timing was perfect — one of them placed the crown of thorns on the cross. The words: “There is nothing that I wouldn’t do / to make you feel my love.” All this action as the lights were slowly coming down and the cross was pretty much the only thing in the room still illuminated… and then that light went out, too. It was powerful. Our lead singer knew what was going to be happening, but he confessed he was so moved he wasn’t sure he was going to get the last line out without his voice cracking.

  4. April 22, 2010 10:29 am

    Oh, and one I’ve always wanted to use but haven’t yet had the chance: “You R Loved” by Victoria Williams.

  5. Becca Clark permalink
    April 23, 2010 9:46 am

    One of my favorite topics! I see the gospel all over “secular” music. In fact, I’m often surprised to learn a song *isn’t* about God/church/Jesus/gospel.

    “Still,” Alanis Morisette (speaking as God from the Dogma soundtrack)
    “Come on Home,” the Indigo Girls (prodigal child, anyone?) and most other songs written by United Methodist P.K. Emily Saliers
    “Better Days,” Goo Goo Dolls (is it not supposed to be about the nativity?)
    “Alleluia,” Leonard Cohen, but I like it best sung by k.d. lang.
    “Conviction of the Heart,” Kenny Loggins
    “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon and Garfunkel
    “The Riddle,” Five for Fighting
    “Pride (In the Name of Love),” U2, and again, just about anything else they’ve got.
    “Another Day in Paradise,” Genesis, and most stuff written by Peter Gabriel.

  6. John Meunier permalink
    April 24, 2010 7:42 am

    When we say “hymns” do we mean songs we’d play/sing in a worship setting?

    I don’t see “Hallelujah” as a good song for that, at least not the versions I’ve heard. It is a love song with heavy sexual imagery.

    Maybe I’m just a prude.

    Is Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” a hymn?

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