Spiritual Music Not Often Heard In Churches
- My spiritual background is Christian and thus what I say here
should be taken in a Judeo-Christian context for that reason
alone. I wish I had the knowledge to be more ecumenical.
- Though I have been to churches of many denominations, they
have mostly been Protestant churches and even then not fully
representative of the spectrum of denominations.
- As a Caucasian, my church experiences have mostly been in
Caucasian churches. (Some say the most segregated hour in America
is 11 a.m. Sunday morning.)
- Afro-American spiritual music is prevalent in black churches and
some other churches. I am assuming that there are others far
better qualified than I to discuss that music so I am not
attempting to do so here.
This page originated based on discussions with pastors and lay
leaders of my church. What is here now is skeletal. I hope that I can
expand it in a way that helps others. For now, my hope is that the
skeletal form helps others with music that has been spiritually
important to me.
Update, March 13,
A few discussions/experiences the last six weeks or so have spurred me
to add a little more.
First, my wife,
Caroline and I
played music publicly for the first time in over 15 years as a
warm-up for a church supper where Dr.
Bob Lively, Chaplain, Austin Recovery spoke.
(At a prayer breakfast the day before, the organizers were so
desperate that they twisted my arm into agreeing to be the warm-up
music, even though I haven't played alone in public in over
thirty years. Fortunately, I was able to persuade Caroline to sing
and play keyboard, and I just played my bass guitar.)
Anyway, we played Farther
the Garden, and Amazing Grace.
Of course, "Amazing Grace" is often heard in churches.
"In the Garden" is number 314 in the United Methodist
Hymnal, but I have never heard it in any church. (I first
learned it from Caroline over thirty years ago when we first started
playing music together.)
Though "Farther Along" is well known, I've never found
it in a hymnal but learned in from my friend, Jack Moore, while we were
driving down a country road some thirty-five years ago.
Second, a close family friend and mentor, a nominally retired
Methodist pastor who probably works 60+ hours a week on mission
activities, especially the P.E.T. Project, lamented
some of the hymns such as An Evening Prayer
that are no longer found in hymnals.
Third, yesterday, both during church service and speaking to
our pastor afterwards, I had new realizations of the impact of
Bible translations on spiritual music.
Caroline is a strong advocate of the King James translation, so
even though I was raised on the Revised Standard Version, I
primarily read King James, both at home and during services.
The sermon was based on Mark 8:31-38, and during the reading,
the pastor talked about his fondness for the King James Version of that
passage. Reading along I saw that Mark 8:37
is the basis for the
first Monroe brothers' recording, wording totally lost in more
recent translations. Afterward, our pastor lamented hymns that
had been abandoned seemingly because they were based on the King James
translation and have been set aside as that translation has been set
aside so much.
So it seems appropriate to add a new first item to the list previously
on this page.
- Hymns that are not sung even though they are still in hymnals and hymns
that are generally not in hymnals any more.
- Pre-bluegrass American music, most notably, songs of A.P. Carter such
Depression in Heaven,
songs like Life is Like a
Mountain Railway, the Monroe Brothers' recordings before Bill
Monroe "invented" bluegrass, e.g., I think the Monroe
Brothers' first recording was What Would You Give in Exchange for
Your Soul, many of Bill Monroe's compositions (e.g.,
Happy On My Way) and other,
only slightly more recent "country" recordings from Hank
Williams, Sr., Jimmy Murphy, et al.
(Much of this music had a resurgence in the 1960s/70s, and that
is how I came to know/love it. There is so much more to say about the
spiritual music of A.P. Carter, of Bill Monroe, of Hank Williams and
of Jimmy Murphy that it is hard to know where to start/stop.)
- Reggae. Some Reggae recordings, e.g., The Melodians'
Rivers of Babylon,
are based directly on scripture
(Psalm 137:1-4 and Psalm 19:14, in this case).
I've long thought of Bob Marley's
as his masterpiece and a strong spiritual influence.
Marley's first recording was "Judge Not".
More recently, I've recognized strong spiritual influence from some
other Marley recordings, ones that I'd heard for years,
but not really heard.
- Other popular music that I've heard, but not really heard.
For example, one of the few LPs that I listened to so much that I bought a
replacement copy after the first copy wore out, is Van Morrison's
"His Band and the Street Choir".
I've listened to If I Ever Needed Someone on that album for
30 years, thinking of that song as romantically intended for most of those
A few months ago, I recognized that that song is literally a prayer
and not intended romantically at all (in my opinion).
- Bob Dylan seems separate to me, partly because his music and words have
influenced me so much, and partly because his religious transitions have
been considered newsworthy (from Judaism to Christianity and then back to
Some of his songs, e.g., Gotta Serve Somebody
are obviously intended to have spiritual influence.
But his songs are often not obvious in their meaning.
Often it takes years for me to truly grasp (or think I am
truly grasping) some of my favorites of his songs, whether they are
spiritual or not.
For example, "Jokerman" has been captivating to me since I
first heard it, but it wasn't until many years later, that I felt
compelled to try to figure out what that song means.
I still haven't, but there are lots of (spiritual) possibilities
raised in Jokerman.
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