God is a DJ – an ‘alternative’ playlist for Lent

updated every day in Lent

I love music, particularly like finding songs that unintentionally steer me towards God, whether that be through a comforting or provoking title, lyric or tune. And in 2021 I decided to use my love of music to explore Lent as a musical and spiritual devotional exercise.

Each day through Lent to Holy Week and Easter Monday of 2021, I posted on Twitter a link to song on, and using the character limit available to explain why I’ve chosen that song and what its connection is to Lent for me.

I set myself a few ground rules to encourage me to explore and find God in the musical world around me: it has to be music that I have and listen to; to try and avoid including an artist/musician/band more than once; to try not to use Christian worship songs explicitly written about Jesus, Lent, Easter, and so on (it’s not that I don’t like or listen to them, I do!).

The playlist is listed below with links to the songs and with explanations for why I think they are relevant to Lent, but if you want to listen to the whole playlist you can click on the video below to start playing it, or access it on YouTube via this link.

Song 1 (Ash Wednesday): Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie. On Ash Wednesday it has to be Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie – a song about drug addiction that points to the struggles in seeking heaven, and the dangers in finding the wrong one.

Song 2: Lent is in part about entering into the wilderness experience Jesus had, a time to contemplate all that has been and will be, particularly the knowns. This brand new release by Salt Of The Sound is perfect for that: Awake My Soul.

Song 3: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds consistently produce powerful & thought provoking music – Jesus Alone helps me picture Jesus in the desert, alone, tormented and tempted by the devil and the struggle to resist the devil’s torture.

Song 4: Lent is 40 days long (Sunday’s aren’t counted, though I doubt Jesus popped back into town to get fresh supplies!) but U2’s 40 is more relevant than the number of the psalm it’s taken from – “I waited patiently for the Lord…”.

Song 5: Talk Talk are another band with many potential Lent songs, and I’d choose the whole of the album Spirit of Eden, but Wealth‘s words & music connect us with Jesus, the Trinity and the wilderness so wonderfully.

Song 6: Peter Gabriel’s Come Talk To Me was written for one of his children but is also Lent in a song, one of searching and communicating – a search through our deserts to find and hear God.

Song 7: Faithless’s God Is A DJ – Jesus Christ is no disconnected god but a God knows what it is to be human, to live & suffer, He is the Church, where He heals our hurts, producing the ultimate solution & remedy.

Song 8: Led Zeppelin’s In The Light a song captures some of sounds of the North African desert with words that could be God calling to guide and help us as we search in our personal wildernesses for love, purpose and meaning.

Song 9: The Verve’s song Love Is Noise starts with a lyrical reworking of William Blake’s hymn Jerusalem and helps place Jesus in a modern context & connects us with Him & with the pain of loving those caught by the injustices of our time.

Song 10: R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts – as well as linking Jesus’s suffering with our own, it speaks to me of a song of comfort God could have sung to Jesus whilst he was alone in the wilderness for the 40 days, contemplating what was to come.

Song 11: Low’s The Lamb – a song intermingling the stories & deaths of Jesus & the Mormon leaders Joseph Smith conveying, to me at least, Jesus as a ‘dead man walking’ in the wilderness with the knowledge of the immediate & long-term future.

Song 12: Doves’ Kingdom of Rust – even Jesus asked if there was way other than the Cross so I don’t underestimate the level of trust He needed or His ability to maintain his love, or continue to see the beauty, of that around Him.

Song 13: Bruce Springsteen’s Dead Man Walking from the film focusing on Sister Helen Prejean & her to work a man on Death Row – it brings to mind both the burden on Jesus of carrying knowledge of his future & the criminals on the Cross beside him.

Song 14: Mogwai’s My Father, My King is one of their most epic pieces, capturing the multitudes of emotions and thoughts I imagined Jesus went through during His 40 days in the wilderness from focus to chaos and turmoil to peace.

Song 15: Sigur Rós’s Von – like the original from the album of the same name, this version features Jónsi’s wordless vocalisations but with a much more expansive sonic landscape (Von translates from Icelandic into English as hope).

Song 16: Hothouse Flowers’ Give It Up – you might not be giving anything up this Lent but you may still be “coming face to face with [your] conscience, coming to an understanding of [yourself]”, sharing it out, helping out, talking about it.

Song 17: Ryan Adams’ Gimme A Sign – Jesus was both fully God and fully God, and I wonder whether his human nature led Him to ask God for a sign like many of us do, especially in times of waiting and searching.

Song 18: The Devlins’ Heaven’s Wall – like many good pop songs this is one shoes lyrics are contrary to the uptempo & warm way of singing, in this case because they work as a love song from the devil to Jesus as he tried to tempt Jesus.

Song 19: Sweetmouth & Brian Kennedy’s Fear is the Enemy of Love – a joyful song of love & encouragement to Jesus as He came close to the Cross and to us we as face our own fears – God never abandons us.

Song 20: Underworld’s Shudder / King of Snake – Jesus was tempted by the devil & sometime snake in the wilderness. This is just right for dancing in the desert in celebration that Jesus was victorious & can help us overcome our demons too.

Song 21: Red Snapper’s The Sleepless – a song of Biblical imagery, vision & thoughts of someone “transformed into a Nazarene” raising the question of how restful or fitful Jesus’s nights in the wilderness were.

Song 22: Mr Mister’s Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) – a classic song from 1985 that beyond the title an invitation from Christ: “down the road that I must travel, through the darkness of the night, where I’m going, will you follow?”

Song 23: Metallica’s Enter Sandman. I wonder how well Jesus slept in the wilderness with the knowledge of His crucifixion to come. This nightmarish song captures the restless thoughts & prayers that may come when a facing a difficult time.

Song 24: Tracey Chapman’s All That You Have Is Your Soul – a song of lost dreams and hopes, and a chorus urging the refocus we can find in spending time contemplating Christ and Lent.

Song 25: John Legend’s If You’re Out There. It has a title that can suggest a desperate plea to be heard, helped & rescued; as human Jesus asked for it in the garden of Gethsemane & as God proving it for us. The content unites both in hope.

Song 26: Joy Division’s Day Of The Lord’s – “Who goaded you on, demanded more proof”. They demanded proof of who Jesus was, even after He had suffered and rose again. Yet still we demand proof, from Jesus & victims, when we need to believe.

Song 27: Wet Wet Wet’s More Than Love. Jesus didn’t just come to teach. Nor did he die just to provide salvation for us all. He came to offer us God’s strength to carry on, to link us up with the Holy Spirit. It’s more than just love.

Song 28: Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live. A song about Frankenstein which serves well as a pointer to Christ being the source of creation & guidance, and carrying a declaration that “in your final hours, I will stand, Ready to begin”.

Song 29: Gotye’s In Your Light. A Wellbeing song – when our focus is on Jesus, His light can “settle the sadness and the voices in [our] head” and put our worries aside, even if only for a moment.

Song 30: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of. A song that takes us to the end of Lent & Jesus crucified, juxtaposing His death for salvation with those who horrifically misunderstand & misuse His name to kill others.

Song 31: Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – a reminder that freedom is not a spectator sport. We cannot passively read or hear about Jesus working & dying for our freedom & salvation; we need to be actively be involved.

Song 32: Johnny Cash – He Turned the Water Into Wine. Just as Jesus came to set prisoners free in life and from death, Johnny Cash performed this song of his to prisoners within San Quentin Prison to help them find the source of freedom.

Song 33: Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human. A song which raises Jesus’ divine nature. Had Jesus only been human this might have been the song he sung, thankfully He wasn’t & isn’t. He could, can, did & does take our on blame, all the way to the Cross.

Song 34: Sting & Eric Clapton’s It’s Probably Me. Jesus had friends & followers but He was also alone & lonely, the Garden of Gethsemane being 1 such time. This song captures some of the pain & honesty of that loneliness & the friend He is.

Song 35: Primal Scream’s Jesus. The song, which became titled “I’ll be there for you”, could have been sung by Jesus to the disciples as well as to us today, reminding us of His comfort presence continuing through the storms of life.

Song36: Mumford & Sons’ Believe. Of all the numerous songs of the band that are relevant I keep coming back to this song that brings to my mind the disciples’ confusion, doubt & frustration with seeking to understand what Jesus was meaning.

Song 37: Nirvana’s Come As You Are. This acoustic version lays bare the lyrics which are both encouraging & uncomfortable. In Lent, just as always, we’re likewise called to go to God as we are because then He can work with us most fruitfully.

Song 38: Muse’s Follow Me. The lyrics work both as a song from God the Father to God the Son as He faced his loneliest and darkest moments in His last days, and a song from Jesus to us when we go through such times, even if hurt continues.

Song 39: The Tallest Man on Earth’s Burden of Tomorrow. A song linking with Jesus heading out at the start of Lent to fighting “the stranger you should fear” & a return on a pony to face the burden of tomorrow (Palm Sunday) & all that follows.

Song 40: The Finn Brothers’ Part of Me, Part of You. When our voices won’t sing & tears won’t fall God is still part of us & we part of God, just as Jesus was & is when He waited in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane asking for God to speak

Song 41: Pearl Jam’s Garden – ominously bringing to mind the Garden of Gethsemane. The chorus points to the future that Jesus knew He’d be facing but Verse 2 contains some post-resurrection hope: “After all is done… I won’t be taken, yet”

Song 42: Lisa Gerard & Pieter Bourke’s Sacrifice. A sublime piece of vocalisation (sounds not words) & synthesiser that places us in the midst of some of the tension, suffering & heartbreak of the Passion of Christ, Jesus’ final week & death.

Song 43: Prince’s The Cross: “Soon all our problems will be taken by the Cross”. The Cross is coming… the moment when 1 life is laid down for all lives, when Christ goes to defeat death & open up life for all of us & despair turns to hope.

Song 44 (Maundy Thursday): Tori Amos’s Crucify – a song about the suffering people can go through when looking for salvation by being people pleasers, particularly the self-hatred that can arise, & alluding to focusing on Christ’s wisdom to help us (Verse 2).

Song 45 (Good Friday): Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit. Today, Good Friday we remember Christ crucified, Jesus dying & dead on a Cross, death on a dead tree, death that brings life & fruitfulness, strange fruit that brings to mind black people killed on trees.

Song 46 (Easter Eve): Ben Harper’s Like a King/I’ll Rise. This song sits within the space between the remembrance of Christ crucified & resurrected, with parallels within the story of Rodney King & Martin King and within Mary’s Angelou’s poem I’ll Rise.

Song 47 (Easter Day): Peter Gabriel’s It Is Accomplished. The only artist repeated in this playlist. This piece, indeed the whole album it’s drawn from, is 1 of the most exquisite albums of all time & 1 which helps transports us into Jesus’s time & place

Song 48 (Easter Monday): Oasis’s Live Forever. Jesus not only granted us eternal life, life continuing beyond our current existence, but also opened our eyes to see things others may never see: the fullness of life.

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