Rich Mullins, “Hold Me Jesus,” is one of mine; but I think that some of the old hymns are very profound, too.
Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give, and I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls, now I’m falling down; I’m falling on my knees…
So hold me, Jesus; 'cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
You have been King of my glory;
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?
I have about 23 favorite Rich Mullins songs with my top three probably Somewhere, If I Stand, and Let Mercy Lead. When I was in college he came and hung out on our campus for a while, because he was quite the real life vagabond. He said he struggled his whole life with addictions and wrote Hold Me Jesus in Amsterdam because drugs were pretty easy to acquire and he really just wanted to go get high. But he wrote a song instead. I appreciated his total transparency. He was such a nice break from the “positive, encouraging, safe for the whole family” genre.
Lately I have been gravitating toward fairly eschatological songs. Maybe because where we live is steeped in violence and poverty and the “not yet” of the coming Kingdom is what I see all day long. Farther Along and Beyond the Blue by Josh Garrels, After the Last Tear Falls and the Sower’s Song by Andrew Peterson, All Ye Refugees by Sandra McCracken.
Add me to the Andrew Peterson fan list. I listened to him a little as a teen, but after going through my heavy metal phase and hip-hop phase, I’ve come back to his music much more strongly. I really love both of his Resurrection Letters albums (the song “Is He Worthy?” came out this year – really good for Easter). I’d second “Sower’s Song” as excellent as well. I don’t buy CDs very often anymore (except kids’ ones) but he’s pretty much the one artist that we instantly pre-order as soon as we see he’s coming out with something else.
I also really like Michael Card (an influence of Andrew Peterson as well). Many of his albums are thematically related to certain Bible stories or books of the Bible. Fernando Ortega is another good one. Both Card and Ortega have albums dedicated to the Good Friday aspect of Holy Week (A Violent Grace, and The Crucifixion of Jesus).
I grew up listening to Steve Green too, who had some good stuff. As for traditional hymns, “Be Thou My Vision” is one of my favorites.
One of my favorites is the Canticle of Turning by Rory Cooney (speaking of the Magnificat over in another thread!) We’ve sung this in church (or our youth choir sang it rather) --keeping the rhythm and harmonies lively, not slow, as many sing it. This is the best youtube rendition I’ve found that hasn’t been removed.
Michael Card’s and Rich Mullins’ songs were pretty much the soundtrack of my first decade as a follower of Jesus in my late-teens to late-twenties. I don’t know that these all could be considered “contemplative”, but among my favorites from Mullins are Verge of a Miracle, The Love of God, Somewhere, Calling out Your Name, Sometimes by Step, and The Maker of Noses. I was also deeply influenced by Brennan Manning during that decade, and fans of Mullins likely know of the profound impact Manning had on Mullins. The film Ragamuffin is worth watching, as it portrays well the passion and brokenness that marked Mullins’ too-short time on earth. It also made me appreciate Verge of a Miracle so much more, as I didn’t know the story behind that song before watching the film. I’ve always considered it odd that Sometimes by Step is known by many only for the chorus, when it’s the second verse that moves me most:
Sometime I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that no less than he
And on this to righteousness
Sometime the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond your reach
Calling Out Your Name is one I didn’t appreciate as much when I first heard it. But as my faith has grown more “earthy” and as life has battered me in recent years in ways I never could have imagined in my twenties, lyrics like this have sustained me.
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'till you see
What time may never know; what time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope; to run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain
And I feel the thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out your name
My list of favorites from Card could approach or exceed Christy’s 23 from Mullins. Off the top of my head as it approaches 1:00 am are Live this Mystery, Jubilee, Then They Will Know, Joy in the Journey, and Chorus of Faith.
I hadn’t heard of Andrew Peterson before, but it sounds like I should make a point to find his music.
I love “Hold Me Jesus” and think of the lines from that bridge often.
I love a lot of worship songs and hymns, I’m sure none of them new to anyone here, so I won’t bother rehashing them. I’m also grateful for some of the new suggestions above!
One thing I stumbled upon a few years ago was the genre often called “holy minimalism,” which as Wikipedia says is “distinguished by a minimalist compositional aesthetic and a distinctly religious or mystical subject focus.” I love that it’s calm and contemplative — good music to work by, and helps ground me when I’m feeling a bit too wound up. Among its most celebrated composers are Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, both Orthodox (Estonian and British), though holy minimalist composers are theologically diverse. In this NYTimes article, Pärt talks about his faith. This article was my first introduction to Pärt.
When I had access to better internet, I plugged those names into Pandora and listened to everything it spit out. I didn’t like everything I heard, mind you, but I found some gems I did love. One of them is this third movement from Pärt’s In Principio (“In the Beginning” — BioLogos-appropriate!), called “Erat Lux Vera” (“he was true light”):
The tension that starts to build around minute 4 or 5 is exquisite.
Another of those gems is Frank Martin’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, in French, a movement from his work In Terra Pax. (Oddly, Martin does not seem to be a holy minimalist himself, but anyway, I like it for similar reasons! And he’s a Swiss Calvinist, which some here will appreciate more. ) I often just put it on repeat while working. It reminds me to pray and has a natural sort of deep-breathing cadence to it that I find calming. Here’s a YouTube clip, though I prefer my London Philharmonic recording (apparently not on YouTube but maybe on Spotify?) because it’s even slower:
At the risk of starting something I can’t stop, here is another favorite of mine: “God is here among us” written in 1729 by Gerhard Tersteegen (a minister in Holland). Here is the sheet music showing the lyrics. And while you are looking at that page with words and music, click here to hear it played. This is the particular arrangement of it we have in our own church hymnal with its four part harmonies.
And while many here in the U.S. celebrate “Independence” day, what better way to enjoy such times than to enjoy hymns of praise without borders!