Church of Art: Why Music Matters

Singing hymns with the congregation, led by Mumford & Sons. 

In case you want to listen: 

Hello everyone. If you all will get settled down in to your pews, we’ll begin our service.

I used to sing  in groups a lot.  Choirs from kindergarten to graduation. Then ten college students accompanied by guitar in a living room. Fifty female voices on women’s retreat. One hundred, or two hundred, or sometimes even three hundred voices on a Sunday morning. Gentle and soothing, or raucous and celebratory–our songs would soar to the ceiling, leaking through the stained glass circle that capped our sanctuary.

I would clap so hard my hands would sting. Stomp and spin and sing my throat raw. And in those moments of song I sometimes felt it — that mysterious something other we call The Divine.

Music is one of the channels that allows us to experience Transcendence– that elevated space; that thing which hoovers over the surface of the plane we now inhabit. There are other things that allow us to transcend, to touch God. Mountain peaks, unpopulated deserts, the roar of the sea. Paintings by Van Gogh, dance that catches our breath, and masterful writing. But few of these thing can happen en masse. Few of them call us all to participate the way we can in many-voiced song.

I miss it, the all-together singing.  The lyrics of the old songs don’t hold much truth for me any longer, and so I am isolated from the group voice. Oh, there’s a word here and a phrase there that I can send out with conviction. But most of the time I find myself editing. Shifting pronouns to be gender inclusive. Smiling wryly at an extravagant statement of belief to which I can no longer ascribe. Skipping lines that make me think: “Oh, friends. Don’t drink the koolaid!”

The closest thing I can come by now is the mass sing-along of a concert. Those marvelous gatherings that are all stamping of feet, and rhythmic clapping, and the raising of hands. A new church. A new song.

In a post-church world you can create a new hymnody.  You can gather a set of songs that nurture and inspire. You can determine which lyrics will shape your soul.

Click to tweet the good word.

That is why today’s sermon is brought to you by Mumford & Sons. Now, just about any piece from their songbook has a rightful place in the hymnal. But this new one is stunning in it’s simplicity. It gathers up the longing of the soul and pours it out–a libation in banjo and bass.

Now I’ll be bold,
as well as strong,
and use my head alongside my heart.

So tame my flesh,
and fix my eyes.
A tethered mind, freed from the lies.

And I’ll kneel down,
and wait for now.
I’ll kneel down,
know my ground.

Raise my hands.
Paint my spirit gold.
Bow my head.
Keep my heart slow.

I will wait, I will wait for you.”

Ah, a worthy prayer. This, I can sing. This I can pray.

What about you, my magpie? Are you claiming your own ability to ascertain truth? Can you replace that which was lost? Are you gathering a new hymnody?

I think you are. I know you can. I hope you will.

(Amen? Amen.)


I’m writing a book in a cabin  about loosing your religion — or rather, about re-creating something beautiful in the aftermath. (We all need good soulcare, do we not?) Creating a new hymnody is just one practice in collection. I’m sharing tidbits with you along the way, and would love your feeback. Thanks so much for being here today. -your magpie girl


When religion failed me, art saved me. Now I worship at the Church of art, at the intersection of art + spirituality. Click here to soak up more inspiration. (Amen? Amen.)

Rebekah November 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

I, too, was a choir girl, and have been compiling my own–“secular”, in church speak–hymnal in the years since I left conventional religion. I can relate. Mumford & Sons is in mine, and so are some songs from U2, Pearl Jam, Iron & Wine, Florence + the Machine, and Placebo among others.

Love this post! And I love that you’ve started the “Church of Art” series, because I think a lot of people are best touched through the arts. I look forward to this each week. :)

Rachelle November 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Thank you Rebekah. Which Florence + the Machine tune? I’d love to know!

Bethany Bassett November 8, 2012 at 7:42 am

Oh friend…. I feel like you put my experience as well as your own into words. Mumford & Sons has been my church music lately too. Much love.

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