Thanksgiving Playlist

I’ve compiled a playlist of songs of thanks to God for life, beauty, family, salvation, fruitful harvests, and countless other blessings, and for God’s very self. To make a list on this theme is difficult, as every praise song, of which there are millions, is essentially a song of thanksgiving. So many songs and other musical pieces, including those from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, testify to experiences of goodness. Perhaps I’m being too literal, but I focus (though not exclusively) on songs that explicitly say “Thanks.” I also want to make clear that God deserves thanks not just for what he’s done but for who he is.

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The list is bookended by the seventeenth-century Trinitarian doxology written by Thomas Ken (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .”), which many churches sing weekly to the tune of OLD 100TH. While the first on the list is in English, the last is in Hawaiian.

Several of the songs are settings of the biblical psalms. The Abayudaya community of Jews in Eastern Uganda, for example, sings the call-and-response Psalm 136 in Luganda; led by J. J. Keki, the congregation responds after each line with “His steadfast love endures forever!” Banjoist Béla Fleck [previously] and mandolinist Chris Thile use this melody from Abayudaya as the basis of their “Psalm 136” duet, which appears on Fleck’s new album, Bluegrass Heart.

There’s also Psalm 92 (“It is good to give thanks to the Lord . . .”) from Poor Bishop Hooper’s EveryPsalm project, Wendell Kimbrough’s Psalm 107, and a classical guitar rendition of Jewish singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman’s “Hodu” [previously], a setting of Psalm 118:1–4. Rebekah Osborn also sets Psalm 118, in English.

“We Thank You” is by Broken Walls, a musical group comprising followers of the Jesus Way who seek to build bridges between the church and the First Nations people of North America. Founded by Jonathan Maracle, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Territory in Ontario, Canada, the band uses indigenous instruments and sounds to share the Creator’s love.

Across the Atlantic, the monks of Keur Moussa Abbey [previously] in Senegal sing “Nous Te Louons, Père Invisible” (“We Praise You, Invisible Father”), accompanied by balafon (a gourd-resonated xylophone). The French lyrics translate as follows:

Lord of immortality
We praise you, invisible Father
You are the source of life
We praise you, invisible Father
The source of all light
We praise you, invisible Father
You are the source of grace
We praise you, invisible Father
Friend of mankind, friend of the poor, you draw everything unto yourself through the coming of your beloved Son!
We praise you, invisible Father

I’ve also included a dedicatory instrumental piece played on kora and oboe for the inauguration and consecration of the abbey.

Praise be to God, too, for natural wonders large and small. You’ll want to be sure to check out Alanna Boudreau’s setting of “Pied Beauty” by the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. (For you Hopkins lovers, Boudreau also set “My own heart let me more have pity on” and “God’s Grandeur,” the latter appearing on Spotify as “Wb / Bw.”) There are also classics like “This Is My Father’s World” and, retuned and retitled by Ben Thomas, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” [previously].

“For the Beauty of the Earth,” which opens with gratitude for creation and then expands into other areas of thanks, is one of my all-time favorite hymns. Andrew Laparra’s straightforward rendition is so lovely, even though it does omit two of the verses—on the wonders of the human body (“. . . the mystic harmony linking sense and sound to sight”) and “the joy of human love . . .”

For the provision of food, there’s a delightful little song that Kim Gannon and Walter Kent wrote for the 1948 Disney short The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, the American nurseryman, conservationist, and folk hero. The song became popular in primary schools and children’s camps and at grace before meals, and in 2003 Mary Thienes Schünemann included an adaptation in the songbook and accompanying album This Is the Way We Wash-a-Day, which is what I’ve put on the list.

For another prayer appropriate for mealtime, see “Multilingual Grace” by Jaewoo Kim, Grace Funderburgh, Abraham Deng, and Josh Davis of Proskuneo Ministries [previously]. “Here in our community, we eat together a lot . . . and that means Koreans, Latinos, Americans, Burmese, and Sudanese and more coming together around the table,” Davis writes on the Proskuneo blog. “We wanted something we could sing to thank God together. And so we wrote this.” The chorus says “Thank you” in Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and Swahili:

Shukran
Gam-sa-hae
Gracias
Asante

(See the full lyrics.)

Relishing simply being alive is a common theme that comes across especially in songs like “So Glad I’m Here” by Bessie Jones, covered by Dan Zanes [previously] and Elizabeth Mitchell [previously], and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” by the Mister Rogers(!), charmingly jazzified by Holly Yarbrough.

Michael and Lisa Gungor sing of the gift of their second daughter, Lucette, in their song “Light.” Lucie, as they call her, whose name means “light,” was born in 2014 with Down syndrome and heart complications. Seven years and multiple heart surgeries later, she continues to fill the Gungors’ lives, and others’, with brightness.

Gratitude in all circumstances is another theme that comes up, in such songs as “Hallelujah” by the Sons of Rainer, “Sing” by Jon Batiste, and the traditional hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing.” And India Arie’s gorgeous “Give Thanks,” which expresses an attitude of welcome and embrace for all that life brings. In the refrain “Give thanks for all that is,” “Give thanks” is substituted in repeats with the words “Selah” (an untranslatable Hebrew word from the Psalms that probably indicates a reflective pause in the music), “Hallelujah” (Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”), “Namaste” (Sanskrit for “I bow to you”), and “Ashé” (a multivalent concept in Yoruba religion that carries the meaning, in one sense, of “So be it,” similar to “Amen” in Christianity).

Recited daily upon waking up, “Modeh Ani” by Nefesh Mountain is a Jewish prayer of thanks that translates to “I give thanks before you, King living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness!” It’s based on the belief that every morning, God renews every person as a new creation.

There are also gospel songs aplenty by artists including Shirley Ann Lee, Mahalia Jackson, Beyoncé [previously], Regina Belle, Roberta Martin, Janice Gaines (covering Andraé Crouch), and others from the Black church tradition.

Bob Marley’s “Thank You, Lord” from 1967 isn’t on Spotify, but an admirable cover by his fellow Jamaican reggae artist Max Romeo is. Sam Cooke’s recording of “I Thank God” by Jack Hoffman, Elliott Lewis, and Bebe Blake is also missing from the streaming service, but I love what the Avett Brothers do with the song, so I’ve featured them instead.

Our gratitude for God’s love and hospitality should overflow into our relationships with other people, animals, and the earth, and our trust in God’s goodness means we should receive with openness what comes from his hand, even if it’s not what we asked for. In the playlist’s penultimate song, “The Welcome,” David Benjamin Blower sings, “Just as Love has welcomed you, my friends / Welcome one another and all things.”

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This blog site and the thematic playlists that accompany it take an enormous amount of time to put together. If you have been blessed by either this year, please consider making a financial contribution to support me so that I can continue doing this work. And thank you, all, for engaging with and sharing the content!

Roundup: Art and the Psalms, “We Americans,” the Walking Roots Band, and more

“Psalms in Dialogue: Psalms 22, 23, and 24,” presented by Duke University Chapel: This multidisciplinary video presentation brings together dancers, musicians, a theologian, a painter, and (other) members of the Duke community to draw out the meaning of, or respond to, these three sequential psalms through art, prayer, and conversation. The livestreamed event aired October 17 and will be available for viewing for a limited time. Several of the segments, which I’ve time-stamped below, are intercut with photos from the streets in 2020 (showing the impact of the pandemic and racial unrest), of artist Makoto Fujimura in his studio and of his three finished paintings, and of Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet dancers in training. I wish more university chapels and well-resourced churches would offer experiences like this! Thank you to my friend Peggy for telling me about it. Read more about Duke Chapel’s multiyear Psalms project here.

1:51: “How do we name the impossible mystery?,” a theological reflection by Morley Van Yperen

6:02: Organ: “Jésus accepte la souffrance,” from La Nativité du Seigneur [previously] by Olivier Messiaen, performed by Christopher Jacobson

10:58: Psalm 22 by Makoto Fujimura, 2020, oyster shell on Belgium canvas, 48 × 48 in.

11:09: Reading of Psalm 22:1–22 by Luke A. Powery, with balletic responses by Paiter van Yperen, Elijah Ryan, Heather Bachman, and Sasha Biagiarelli

15:40: Lament, ballet solo danced by Paiter van Yperen (music by Max Richter, choreo by Elisa Schroth)

18:10: Psalm 22:22–32 chant by Zebulon Highben

21:09: Conversation on the Psalms with Makoto Fujimura and Ellen F. Davis, moderated by Amanda Millay Hughes

29:32: Organ: “Christus, der uns selig macht,” BWV 620, by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Christopher Jacobson

32:00: Prayer by Nathan Liang

34:11: Recitation of Psalm 23 by Julia Hendrickson

35:22: 6IX, a tap dance by Andrew Nemr

37:10: “The 23rd Psalm,” text adaptation and music by Bobby McFerrin, performed by the Duke Chapel Staff Singers (*this was my favorite!)

40:42: Prayer by Jonathan Avendano

42:39: “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” music by Howard Goodall, performed by the Royal School of Church Music in America Choristers

46:13: Psalm 24 remix produced by Andrew Nemr

48:21: Prayer by Jordyn Blake

49:45: Recitation of Psalm 24 by Julia Hendrickson

51:32: Conversation continued

1:11:49: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” African American spiritual arranged by Mark A. Miller, performed by the Duke Chapel Choir

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POEMS: This week’s edition of ImageUpdate includes two poems that I really appreciated. The first, which was new to me, is “America” by Claude McKay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Originally published in The Liberator in 1921, it expresses the pain of living in a country where you’re hated for your race and yet remains optimistic, beginning, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, / And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess / I love this cultured hell . . .” The second poem is “Making Peace” by Denise Levertov, one of the best-known Christian poets of the twentieth century. “The poets must give us / imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar / imagination of disaster,” she writes. Poets can help us feel our way toward shalom—give us a vision of its permeating the world that inspires us to live out its rhythms, its metaphors, its structure, its grammar, our lives like poems.

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MUSIC VIDEO: “We Americans” by the Avett Brothers: I’m so moved by this song from the Avett Brothers’ 2019 album Closer Than Together—its grappling with the historical legacy of the US, its greatness and its guilt, with a mixture of heartache, empathy, and hope. It’s one of the healthiest expressions of patriotism I’ve ever come across in a song. We need to see America as the complex entity that she is, which means in part not ignoring her flaws but with love exposing them so that they can be remediated and we can move forward together more faithful to her celebrated ideals. “We Americans” is both confession and supplication, an “I’m sorry, God” and “God, help us to do better.” The final chorus:

I am a son of God and man
And I may never understand
The good and evil
But I dearly love this land
Because of and in spite of We the People
We are more than the sum of our parts
All these broken bones and broken hearts
God, will you keep us wherever we go?
Can you forgive us for where we’ve been?
We Americans

I was reminded of this song in the September 17 episode of the RTN Theology podcast, “You Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Unsettle You.” Chris Breslin interviews Mark Charles, a Native American activist, public speaker, Christian leader, and independent candidate in this year’s US presidential election. He is the coauthor, with Soong-Chan Rah, of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. Charles enters at 12:40 with a discussion of the lack of common memory.

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SONGS:

“Whatever Comes Next” by Drew Miller: This song came out of “Hutchmoot: Homebound,” a virtual arts gathering organized by the Rabbit Room that took place earlier this month. In writing the song, Drew Miller [previously] was inspired in part by Shigé Clark’s new poem “Grateful” (see her perform the poem here).

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One Friday back in March, when we thought quarantine would last about six weeks tops, Kelsey and I raised our Old Fashioneds up for our weekly Pizza Night toast, each of us wearing that 😬 sort of face reserved for when we have no idea what’s about to happen (we’ve been making that face a lot this year).⁣ ⁣ And then, as our glasses clinked, she said, “To whatever comes next.”⁣ ⁣ This is my post-Hutchmoot (and as 2020 would have it, pre-election) song. And as such, it steals shamelessly from—well, really, from all over the place, but mostly from Shigé Clark’s staggering poem “Grateful:” “Father, the world is on fire.”⁣ ⁣ Go read that poem. And then, if you have any emotional capacity left, come back and listen to this song.⁣ ⁣ Lyrics:⁣ ⁣ Father, your world’s on fire and⁣ Every day I wake up tired and⁣ Afraid of what’s required of me⁣ ⁣ But your daughter filled my cup, said⁣ “Look at me and listen up,” said⁣ “A toast to all we’ve yet to see”⁣ ⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘓𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘴⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ So this world’s the one I inherit⁣ It takes the best of me just to bear it⁣ While the rest of me wants to tear it down⁣ ⁣ I’ve got no choice in the matter⁣ But to let illusions shatter⁣ And scatter like seeds on the ground⁣ ⁣ 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘓𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘴⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ 𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘐 𝘸𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘺𝘦𝘵⁣ 𝘐’𝘮 𝘨𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘢 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘢𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥⁣ 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ Father, your world’s on fire⁣ And look at how it shines⁣ Father, your world’s on fire⁣ ⁣ I have often wondered⁣ A sister grieves for her brother⁣ She can’t conceive of another ending⁣ ⁣ For all that hope she carried⁣ Only to see it buried⁣ Then, through her tears, she hears⁣ “Mary”⁣ ⁣ So what comes next?

A post shared by Drew Miller (@drewmillersongs) on

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“Bring Your Peace” by the Walking Roots Band: This song was written this year by Seth Thomas Crissman and Greg J. Yoder of the Walking Roots Band as part of a collection of fifteen songs for Shine, a children’s Sunday school curriculum published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press. It appears on Everybody Sing: Worship Songs for Children, released in June as a double album with Everybody Sing: Songs for the Seasons (which comprises ten original songs by The Many). The song asks God to bring his peace into our fears and into the storms we face, and to make us instruments of that peace to others.

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“Rest Assured,” sung by the Walking Roots Band: TWRB learned this song from a bandmate’s parent (original authorship unknown) and recorded it a cappella in their separate locations at the start of quarantine in March. The chorus goes,

Rest assured, He’s not forgotten
Rest assured, He’ll take care of you
Look at the times He’s been there before
He’ll be there again, rest assured

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“Let Justice Roll Like a River,” sung by Eric Lige: Bobby Gilles and Rebecca Elliott of Sojourn Music wrote this song in 2017, inspired by Amos 5. In this lyric video from July 5, it’s performed by Eric Lige and Paul Lee of Ethnos Community Church. The singing starts at 1:33. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

No Hard Feelings (Artful Devotion)

Reconciliation between knights
Detail from a 14th-century Sienese panel painting, showing two enemies being reconciled by an archangel, embracing each other after having cast aside their weapons. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

—Matthew 5:21–24

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SONG: “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers, on True Sadness (2016)

I could listen to Seth Avett [previously] sing all day—and sometimes I do. (Lately I’ve been gorging on his cover of the Tom Waits song “Fish and Bird”!) His light, plaintive, silvery voice moves my soul in a way that producer Rick Rubin embodies in the 2018 HBO documentary May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, as in the clip below. (He’s the long-bearded guy swaying around with his eyes closed.) “No Hard Feelings” is the crux of the film, and it made me cry when I first watched it. It’s an aspiration to live without bitterness, without malice, without enemies—an aspiration arrived at by contemplating one’s eventual death.

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?

When I lay down my fears
My hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers
And the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?

Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the Savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

[Related post: “The Way of Love (Artful Devotion)”]

Directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio and filmed over the course of two years, May It Last charts the rise of the North Carolina folk rock band the Avett Brothers (Scott Avett [previously], Seth Avett, Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon) and follows them in the present during the creation of their multi-Grammy-nominated album True Sadness. The nucleus of the film is the brotherhood of Scott and Seth—their growing up in the South, their creative collaborations, and their constant love, respect, and support for one another. Marriage, divorce, parenthood, and illness are also highlighted, as these inform the songs on True Sadness, of which Seth says, “There are moments of undeniable celebration and camaraderie, others of quiet and lonely exhalation.” (This could really describe the Avett Brothers’ whole catalog.)

The documentary is wonderful; you should see it. It’s streaming for free on HBO or can be rented from YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Vudu.

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SALT Project paraphrases and expands on Jesus’s words from Sunday’s lectionary:

When God gave us this commandment, do you think the idea was that we would form a community in which we constantly antagonize each other, hate each other, abuse each other, wound each other—and then, at the last moment, refrain from murdering each other? Of course not. The spirit of “You shall not murder” is that your bearing toward your neighbors—both in your actions and in your dispositions, your hand and your heart—should never be enmity. Think of it this way: when you’re angry at your brother or sister, when you lash out with hateful words, isn’t that, too, in its own way a kind of violence, a lesser form of “murder”? Isn’t that, too, in its own way a violation of the commandment, an act of ruin against the healthy community the commandment is meant to help you create?


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, cycle A, click here.