The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Songs keep me going

Songs keep me going. Songs are stories, theology and values put to rhythm and melody. Perhaps a main reason why songs are so central in my life is that, as a former stutterer, I never stuttered when singing. One doesn't. Hence, I am grateful for songs. Songs meant freedom. Songs keep me going today.

I sing and play the guitar. I have three 12-string guitars: a 45-year-old sunburst Gibson, a 32-year-old Guild, and a 24-year-old Guild. I play them all. Each has spent ample time accompanying worship liturgies, sermons in song, music at campfires, school programs, in-home gatherings and daily hanging loose at home. My 4-year-old granddaughter Anja picks up a 12 string and strums along. Joy! I have a stack of music perhaps 6 feet high that fills drawers and takes up shelf space. Songs keep me going.

Given all that is going on in this world, we need songs to help define the reality of the times and to give us hope for the times. Songs help us verbalize our fears and rage, our hopes and dreams. It is always better to express and decompress. Songs are our personal confessions of faith and ethics. Songs unite our spirits because when we all sing the same song, we are one. It could be that if the world would sing together, we could live in peace. Yes, songs can ignite discord, but that is part of the truth-telling, and when there is truth, there is hope.

Here are some songs and lines for these times, songs that keep me going and perhaps can help you keep going.

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all eagerness,
Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all gentleness ... (Struther).

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter.
Fear that is within you now that seems to never end (Denver).

Have no fear, little flock .... Have good cheer little flock.
Praise the Lord high above .... Thankful hearts raise to God ... (Jillson).

Sometimes I just don't know, how could life be anything but beautiful;
It seems that I was made for you and you were made for me (Lightfoot).

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so (Warner).

Whose garden was this? It must have been lovely.
Did it have flowers? I've seen pictures of flowers.
And I'd love to have smelled one (Paxton).

How many times must those cannonballs fly,
before they are forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind (Dylan).

You've given me tenderness so I can know warmth.
You've given me laughter so I can be free!
You've given me honesty so I can know trust.
You've given me You, so I can be me (Letnes).

Ain' nobody gonna turn me aroun'.
I'm gonna keep on a walkin', keep on a talkin',
marchin' till the day I die (civil rights song).

When we look and we can see things are not what they should be,
God's counting on me, God's counting on you.
Hoping we'll all pull through, me and you (Wyatt and Seeger).

Light one candle for the wisdom to know
that the peacemakers' time is at hand.
Don't let the light go out (Yarrow).

You are salt for the earth, O people ....
Bring forth the kingdom of mercy, the kingdom of peace,
the kingdom of mercy, the city of God (Haugen).

Preparing to cross the Jordan into Canaan, Moses said to the people: "Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the Israelites; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness ..." (Deuteronomy 31:19). What followed was "The Song of Moses", written to sustain the people of God in their new land.

What are your songs? What songs keep you going? 

A version of this reflection originally appeared on Letnes' blog.


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February issue


Embracing diversity