Simplify: Spiritual Songs for Lent

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The Merriam-Webster definition of “simplify” is “to reduce to basic essentials.”

Lent is the time to spiritually simplify. On Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, preparing to fast, traditionally we clean out our cupboards and fridge of all that sugar and butter. (The reason for all of those pancake suppers!) Flowers give way to greens on the altar shelf. Festive banners come down; purple ones go up. Purple is the color of Lent not for royal reasons — but for penitential ones. In Lent, the priest as a sign of humility wore his oldest and rattiest cassock. Black fades to purple.

Our sacred space is simplified.

(And how might we at home simplify our sacred space — in a pandemic? “Lent” actually is an old English word for spring. So, maybe a little Lenten spring cleaning out a few closets and kitchen cabinets? Donating all that stuff we don’t need maybe to those who do?)

Lent is also the time to simplify our interior space — to let go of and forego “the stuff” that gets in the way of amplifying our witness to Christ – the icon of self-sacrificial love.

Maybe what gets in our way is one of those delicious seven deadly sins? Pick your favorite! Pride. Greed. Envy. Gluttony. Lust. Sloth. Vainglory.

(I pick gluttony. And a little vainglory too.😊)

For forty days, this little devotional offers forty musical ways to simplify the season of Lent. A season of contemplation and contrition. A season to lay our souls bare to the gaze of God.

Ash Wednesday is Day One. The Book of Common Prayer bids us:

Dear People of God; the first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting…

I invite you, therefore in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self denial, and by the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And to make a right beginning, let us now kneel before the Lord our maker and redeemer.

Scripture and meditation, contemplation and prayer in the life of the Church can simply be wrapped up in a song, a hymn, or an anthem. There is nothing like music to put one in a prayerful state of mind.

In the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal much of the music appointed for this holy season is lamentable and that may be apropos. There are just twelve Lenten hymns in the book. But Easter by comparison has forty! Go figure!

The forty songs offered here “sing an American tune.” Simplify: Spiritual Songs for Lent digs deep into the varied musical traditions of the American church. Shaker tunes and early American hymns. Folk, Bluegrass & Gospel, both Black & White. Instrumental interpretations of “old favorites.” And new compositions, you have likely not heard before.

And the artists featured here also have native roots: Anonymous 4, The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, Cantus, The Seldom Scene, Lost and Found, The Staple Singers, David Nevue, and Joan Baez.

You can listen by downloading the Spotify playlist: Simplify: Spiritual Songs for Lent.

Or enjoy the performances via Youtube by clicking individually on the links below. Or shuffle by clicking on this Youtube playlist of the same name.

Anonymous 4

Day One: Holy Manna

Day Two: What Wondrous Love is This?

Day Three: Sweet Hour of Prayer

Day Four: (New Britain) Amazing Grace

Day Five: Shall We Gather at the River?

Day Six: Angel Band

The Porter’s Gate Worship Project

Day Seven: O Sacred Neck, Now Wounded

Day Eight: Drive Out the Darkness

Day Nine: In Times of Trouble

Day Ten: O Jerusalem

Day Eleven: Precious Woman


Day Twelve: Simple Gifts

Day Thirteen: The Sweet By and By

Day Fourteen: The 23rd Psalm

Day Fifteen: Wanting Memories

Day Sixteen: Paradise

Day Seventeen: Steal Away

Day Eighteen: For the Beauty of the Earth

Day Nineteen: E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Day Twenty: Would You Harbor Me?

American Bluegrass (Various Artists)

Day Twenty-One: Were You There?, The Seldom Scene

Day Twenty-two: Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Cliff Waldron

Day Twenty-three: What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Lost and Found

Day Twenty-four: The Old Rugged Cross, Larry Sparks

The Staple Singers

Day Twenty-five: Pray On, My Child

Day Twenty-six: Help Me, Jesus

Day Twenty-seven: Come On Up in Glory

Day Twenty-eight: Good News

Day Twenty-nine: Swing Down Chariot

Day Thirty: Let’s Go Home

David Nevue, Pianist

Day Thirty-one: Take My Life and Let It Be

Day Thirty-two: Psalm 5

Day Thirty-three: It is Well with My Soul

Day Thirty-four: There is a Redeemer

Day Thirty-five: The Old Country Church

Joan Baez

Day Thirty-six: Heaven Help Us All

Day Thirty-seven: Blowin’ In the Wind

Day Thirty-eight: Ring Them Bells

Day Thirty-nine: The President Sang Amazing Grace

Day Forty: All My Trials

So, shuffle, listen straight through, or listen intently to one song at a time. Maybe focus in on a the music of a particular artist or artists that are either familiar or new to you. Maybe make Simplify: Spiritual Songs for Lent the soundtrack of a daily Lenten walk. I am definitely going to try to do that once the ice melts!

Whatever feeds your soul, deepens your prayer, and makes you more self-aware. Whatever way you choose to simplify these forty days walking the way to Calvary– is just fine.

Blessings, Joani

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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