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.

To save the playlist to your Spotify account, click the ellipsis and select “Add to Your Library.”

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!

Joyful Lent (Artful Devotion)

Genesis 9:13 by Sawai Chinnawong
Sawai Chinnawong (Thai, 1959–), Genesis 9:13, 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 27 × 27 in.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

—Genesis 9:8–17

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MUSIC: Keyboard Sonata in C Major (K. 159, L. 104) by Domenico Scarlatti | Arranged for banjo by Béla Fleck and for mandolin by Edgar Meyer | Performed by Béla Fleck and Chris Thile on Perpetual Motion (2001)

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This art and music may seem inappropriately light and bright for the first Sunday of Lent, a season that’s stereotypically thought of as gloomy and self-deprecating. But the Old Testament reading the Revised Commentary Lectionary assigns to this day is God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood, a passage filled with great hope.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Lent does not mean forty days of beating yourself up. It literally means “springtime,” and it’s a time of renewal in preparation for Easter. Self-examination is a major component, yes, but so is grabbing hold of the divine promise—of God’s wondrous love and mercy.

In my church’s liturgy (and this is common across denominations), the confession of sin is always followed by words of assurance—a verse of scripture, spoken by the pastor, that reminds us of the pardon we receive through Christ. We are not left in the darkness of our failures; we are brought into the light, and given power to live as children of the light. Repentance is a joyous thing! That’s why the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, a Second Vatican Council document, refers to Lent as the “joyful season.” It’s joyful because God’s mercy is amazing.

After forty days on a dark boat, and then some, Noah, his family, and a whole bunch of animals come out to a renewed earth, and to a promise painted across the sky in bright colors that never again will all God’s creation be destroyed. Similarly, during Lent we choose to enter a period of darkness, taking stock of our sin. It can seem like a rocking journey, but it’s really a period of regeneration, and when we arrive at Easter we receive, as confirmation of the new life that’s possible, the resurrected Christ. He’s there for us all along—we need not wait till Lent’s over to enter his forgiveness and to rise with him. But we also don’t want to skip over the necessary steps of first acknowledging the depth of our sin, and confessing it with a contrite heart.

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Excerpt from “The Agreement” by Henry Vaughan, from Silex Scintillans:

But while Time runs, and after it
Eternity, which never ends,
Quite through them both, still infinite,
Thy covenant by Christ extends;
No sins of frailty, nor of youth,
Can foil His merits, and Thy truth.

And this I hourly find, for Thou
Dost still renew, and purge and heal:
Thy care and love, which jointly flow,
New cordials, new cathartics deal.
But were I once cast off by Thee,
I know—my God!—this would not be.

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Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and I have a poem planned for publication here at Art & Theology. But I also wrote a short visual meditation for the Anglican Church in North America, which you can find at the bottom of their Lent website, https://giftoflent.org/. It’s on Ted Prescott’s mixed-media artwork All My Sins, which incorporates paper ash, the residue left over from the artist’s burning of a list of his personal sins.

All My Sins by Ted Prescott
Theodore Prescott (American, 1944–), All My Sins, 1996. Cherry, lead, hand-blown glass, paper ash, and silicon, 36.5 × 24.5 × 5 in.


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 First Sunday of Lent, cycle B, click here.