WARNING: Hymns Can be Damaging to Your Seminary Health

Words, words, words. If you’re in seminary, then your world is based wholly on words. Deep words. Big words. In seminary you will hear many words, you will read many words, you will write many words, and you will speak many words. This being the case, I have a very simple suggestion I have found very helpful. When you need to relax and unwind, don’t listen to music with words – or at least big, deep words. This seems sort of simple, I know, but I have found it enormously helpful. I’m not saying that one should never listen to “lyriced” songs, just not when you’re really trying to clear your mind and relax.

I don’t know about you, but I love hymns. Oh, how they resonate in the deepest parts of me! But really, why do they? The words. Not so much the melody (they’re mostly old pub-song melodies anyway). It’s the lyrics that carry the weight of the song, so my mind is always active trying to listen, meditate, and internalize while it’s playing. My mind never gets a rest.

I know, I know. It really does feel like you’re relaxing when listening to worship music or hymns or the like. But just try what I’m saying and I think you will find there’s a difference. There’s a grace one experiences when listening to those Christ-centered songs, but there’s a grace of a different quality when filling your rest time with wordless songs. There’s a different type of worship that forms inside of you—the type of worship that finds its source in beauty, art, science, and nature rather than just words. God wrote two books of revelation for a reason. Discover the amazing complexities of jazz, the soul-stirring movements of classical, or the vivid imagery that movie soundtracks evoke. Or, find some guilty pleasure pop artists you can enjoy. I mean some really cheesy bad contemporary MTV adolescent-girl pop, not 80’s stuff. Try more secular music. What makes Christian music Christian is the words after all, so your mind would still be drawn to focus on the lyrics. But, of course, based on how God has wired you, there may be some conscience issues to be aware of. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for your listening pleasure:

Personal Favorite – Coldplay: I know, they have words. But when I want to worship God with songs that are not explicitly Christian, the first place I go is Coldplay. Their music at least isn’t word-focused. I know hardly any of their words, though they are my third-or-so favorite band. Just play “Fix You” with your eyes closed and see if you don’t have a greater affection for Christ when it’s done.

Classical – Bach: the Cello Suites (Yo-Yo Ma): for the string lover, these suites are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. It’s just Yo-Yo Ma and a Cello. That’s it. Oh, yeah, and a whole lot of goodness as well. My other favorites: anything by Bach, Chopin’s Etudes for the piano lover, Luigi Boccherini for more strings, George Winston if you want a Christian piano artist

Jazz – A Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, and El-p and the Blue Series Continuum (if you can find them anywhere)

Alternative – Sigur Ros: most beautiful Icelandic lounge rock (sort of) you’ll ever hear. Also check out: The Books, Andrew Bird, Band of Horses, Bernard, Cool Hand Luke and Anathallo. The last three are very Christian and amazing.

Singer/Songwriter – Jeff Buckley: for the lover of melody-centric singer-songwriters Also: Glen Hansard, Elliott Smith, Sia, Amos Lee and Damien Rice. Jon Foreman’s solo stuff and Andy Gullahorn for the Christian equivalents

Pop – Katy Perry: some questionable lyrics, I know, but we all need some guilty pleasures. This is mine. She is the daughter of missionaries and has gone all out prodigal. She used to be a Christian artist name Katy Hudson (an okay album), but her stuff now is great musically (and some lyrically, actually), but remember, conscience issues abound for this artist. Other good pop artists: Ingrid Michaelson, A Fine Frenzy, She&Him, and Gnarls Barkley (more R&B than Pop, I know).

Soundtracks – Movie soundtracks can be your best friend. They are written to evoke the imagery of the film, so they are very visceral in their compositions. Also, the tracks are usually in the typical two- to four-minute range of normal songs, so you can feel like you’re listening to real Classical music without sitting through half-hour movements. My favorite: the soundtrack for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough. Other good movies whose soundtracks are amazing: Meet Joe Black, Braveheart, Gladiator, Spy Games, Dan in Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine, Road to Perdition, Pan’s Labyrinth, and lastly, John Williams can do no wrong (Angela’s Ashes, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Munich)

Please let me know your thoughts. If you try any of these artists or albums let me know what you think. If you want to give a hearty amen to any of them or if you have any of your own favorites, feel free to leave a comment below for everyone else to enjoy as well. Now go relax.

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Written by paul-burkhart
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