I’m sitting in my office, doing the Holy Week Hustle – the painful and sacred dance that church leaders learn while simultaneously planning services for Good Friday and Easter. All the awkwardness of dancing at prom, with the joy of dancing at a wedding, and the pain of the morning AFTER dancing at said wedding, realizing that you are far too old and out of shape to dance for hours in 3-inch-heels. It’s that kind of dance.
So, here I am, trying to get into a dark and twisty Friday place, while still trying to whip up not one but TWO high holy and joyful Easter sermons… During it all, I find myself wondering what in the world one should listen to as the foundation of this sacred and uncomfortable routine. What music speaks to the tension of this week, the shared living space of grief and hope?
Turns out, a lot of it is country. Let me qualify that – GOOD country, real country. Also, some folk and rock.
Maybe country music goes with this unique bit of choreography because of the sense of pain and loss that lives at its core. A bittersweet connection with the land, of knowing what it is to live and die with the earth at your feet; but also knowing that, even in seasons of death, there is life just beneath the surface, waiting to spring forth.
So, here's my playlist for Good Friday: Emmylou Harris, “Prayer in Open D." Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, “Your Long Journey.” Patty Griffin, “Mary.” Allison Krauss again, “A Living Prayer.” A little Zeppelin goes a long way to take you into the darkness and rock your socks back out of it, especially if you’re “Going to California,” saying “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You." Throw in the prophetic prose of Bono, Dylan, and – need I say it? – Johnny Cash (who not only wrote the soundtrack for Good Friday but also prescribed the dress code!). Finally, Lady Gaga's “Judas” is worth a listen, and happened to be released on Good Friday last year. My Easter sermon happened to be a little Gaga too: “Born This Way...Again.”
It is interesting to me that many of these artists speak to the shared darkness and hope of this week without ever saying “Jesus,” and yet – someone so Gaga dares to mention him by name and all hell breaks loose on the dance floor. What gives? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling it’s got something to do with this dance between Friday and Sunday and the many ways we want Jesus to stay in an us-sized box, a we-sized tomb. Kanye said pretty much the same thing: “Jesus Walks” with us, through all this lonesome valley. But we sure do want him to look just like us.
What do we learn on Friday, but the harm that comes of that desire? And what do we hope for Sunday, but that God will overcome us, yet again, and take the lead on the floor?
It’s a difficult bit of choreography to master, this balance of pain and joy, the hopeful longing that faces our every darkness, while giving voice to the light ahead. But finally, we “Shake it Out” like Florence, because there is a story to tell. And if we tell it right, we’ll find “Love in a Hopeless Place.”
Dance, folks. Preachers, teachers, singers, writers, mothers, fathers, farmers, cowgirls, rockstars and everybody that drives the truck from here to Sunday.
Dance as if your life depends on it. Sore as your feet might be tomorrow. Dance.
Thanks to Rev. Erin Wathen, pastor of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Glendale, AZ. Erin writes about parenting, driving, cooking, music, travel, marriage, work, and whatever else she comes across out there in the dessert on her blog: The New West.
And, thanks to Amalia Adina for this sparkely portrait of Lady Gaga.