“We need 'worship songs' that talk about the darkness...and I don't mean that silly light-metal group!”

My Facebook friend Clive Price posted this status yesterday morning. Preach it Clive was my response. Lament and songs of catharsis are not the only thing missing for the limited modern song book but they are pastorally the most crucial. As I stand at the front of my Fitzroy congregation on a Sunday morning I see people hurting. They have lost partners, parents, sometimes children. They are heartbroken, stressed about their job, debt ridden or just questioning how their faith relates to the world that constantly throws out shards of darkness.

Many of these stories when you look below the facts carry with them years of illness, sudden tragedy, bad decisions, betrayal and injustice. When souls get deep blue bruised by the circumstances of life, they need lament and catharsis. The Bible is full of such songs and prayers and other kinds of literature. God recognizes that we are but dust and that we will struggle emotionally, mentally and spiritually with the consequences of a fallen world. God allows the believer to scream and shout and wail. There is something in this kind of communication with God in worship that God knows will be part of the healing process. There is nothing like a song to open the pores of the soul, to dig deep and to soothe even sometimes in uncovering the wounds and the scars.

Modern worship music has failed to follow the Biblical mandate here. There might be many reason for this. Writing about another absentee in the contemporary hymnal, social justice, Delirious? singer and songwriter Martin Smith wrote, There has been a lot of talk in the Christian community about writing more songs about injustice and social issues. Is it possible to write congregational songs about poverty, grief or child trafficking and not spoil everybody’s Sunday?”  When anything in worship fears “spoiling people’s Sundays” we are way off track on what Christianity is all about; Jesus spoiled many a Sabbath. A closer look at the quote will save us from lambasting Martin for not writing worship songs of a wider subject matter. In his quote it is the congregation that is not ready; seemingly seeking escapism in Church from the realities of life. That expectation within worshipping communities might be forged by the worship song industry that doesn’t so much consider what I the pastor will use at a Sunday service, to heal the wounds of life in my people, so much as how to sell CDs. When worship moves from a context of communal worship, partnering with prayer, Scripture, sacrament and sermon and ends up being the preferred sound in your car on the way to work and home again or in your kitchen or at a dinner party once you are at home then we are in danger of losing the worship song’s original vocation.

So Clive is right. We need to steal the pastoral potency of the worship song back. In Fitzroy we have looked outside of the Christian industry. Leonard Cohen’s If It Be Your Will has been one we have used for lament. Or U2’s Psalm 40. This week a song that Norah Jones sings called Humble Me became the core for our communal confession. As a pastor I often give people cathartic songs to help them in bereavement. At Greenbelt a number of years ago Doug Gay, lecturer, author and songwriter, performed a suite of songs about the death of his father. It was artistically authentic and emotionally charged. Tears were being shed all round the room and healing was being done. I asked a few people to record and release it but they thought there was no market and I thought Churches should fund it is a pastoral resource.

My friend Alain is a gifted worship leader and tragically lost his twenty three year old wife a few years ago. He told me that for six months there was nothing he sang in Church that in any way related to his relationship with God. So songwriters of the world with a Christian faith, whether inside the worship industry or not. Write us some songs of lament. The Bible doesn’t shirk away from eyeballing the darkness. In bringing our lives that are drowning in darkness to the God of all light something happens. Give us back our lament. I need some of it for Sunday!


Andrew Cupples

I was looking for songs along the same line a few months ago, and came up more or less blank. It's hard even to find songs in a minor key! One thing I stumbled upon in my searches was the 'Village hymns for social worship', an old hymnbook on Google Books. It has some fantastic lyrics on the darker side of the Christian walk, it just needs someone to come along and provide suitable tunes.
Here's the link if you're interested


Great post on a strange phenomenon - at what point did singing as a true attempt at communing with God become a propaganda tool for a self-serving Church I wonder?

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