Finding God in Music

Best Ignatian Songs headerThere’s something thoroughly Ignatian about finding God in music. St. Ignatius’s spiritual approach mostly bypasses the concepts and ideas stuffed into our heads and strives to touch the heart directly. That’s what music does too. Music is literally beyond words.

There’s a scene in the movie The Mission that shows what I’m talking about. A Jesuit, loosely based on the missionary and martyr St. Roque Gonzalez, comes into the jungle to make contact with the native people who had killed another priest. He sits down and plays a hauntingly beautiful melody on his recorder. The South American Indians come—armed, hostile, suspicious—but the music brings about a miracle of reconciliation. Watch the scene here.

I’m not aware of any mention of music in Ignatius’s writings, but I have to think that Ignatius, a cultured man who lived in Paris and Rome, heard and appreciated good music. What kind of music? Maybe something like this lovely choral setting of John 14:15–17, by Thomas Tallis, who was a contemporary of Ignatius.

There’s a lot more music around today than there was in Ignatius’s time. Here are some songs that have moved me, touched my heart, and otherwise shown me something about God.

Several of these songs are prayers. From Ireland comes Van Morrison’s lyrical “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You” and U2’s rock anthem “Yahweh.” Also listen to Alison Krauss’s heartfelt “Palm of Your Hand.”

There’s no cheap grace in “After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons and “Every Grain of Sand” by Bob Dylan, covered here by Emmylou Harris. The imagery in the music video for “That’s Why I Pray” by Big and Rich is haunting.

One of Us” by Joan Osborne is a rock-pop reflection on the question, “What would it mean if Jesus became one of us?” Here is a clip from what I call the Discernment Song—“Lead Me, Guide Me,” by Elvis Presley.

I’ll wrap this up with “Ah, Tutti Contenti,” the conclusion of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, which blends forgiveness, love, and celebration in one unforgettable melody.

Share your own favorite spiritual music in the comments.

Following along with #31DayswithIgnatius? Today’s 31 Days with St. Ignatius link is Wading into the Ocean by Marina McCoy.

Jim Manney
Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. Thanks for the great article. My Ignatian community, 5th Week in Detroit, is choosing music which touches us around various themes. Currently we are reliving the Spiritual Exercises specifically the 1st Week. I chose “Every breath you take” by the Police. Thanks again for your inspiring article!

  2. “I need you next to me, share every breath with me…for the rest of my life”–Leigh Nash, from the movie Bounce with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck.

  3. “Spiegel Im Spiegel” is probably the music in which I most readily hear God. It’s perfectly still, sweet, and beautiful, never becoming tense or anxious or going for cheap emotional manipulation. Its symmetry is perfect, its harmony is immaculate. What other than the hand of God can we say inspired this masterpiece!

  4. Directly inspired and influenced by Ignatius is “Day by Day” from Godspell (Robin Lamont and Company) and “Take, O Lord, and Receive -(Lorraine Hess0. Truly both contemplative and full of hope!

  5. Leonard Cohen – Come healing; hothouse flowers – this is it (your soul); bob Dylan – ring them bells; Van Morrison – in the garden; Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey; Liam O’Maonlai – Worry Not. Most of the songs of these artists are touched by God, but these spring to mind.

  6. consider Amanda McBroom a great spiritual writer…sing her lyrics as hymns..she wrote “The Rose” actually and also one to her father’s memory called “The Picture” and a great one for her mother…cant hear a lot of them without tears..she is lovely

  7. i am always reassured by these words –
    “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music”
    Kurt Vonnegut

  8. I want to share this song by Shaina Noll called ” How can anyone tell you are anything less than beautiful.” In this song I was very touched by God ‘s voice telling me how beautiful a child I am to Him.It is the beginning of my relationship with Love who loves me as I am,warts and all. Now I am able and want to share His love with others as it is overflowing in ME!

  9. Any music touching your heart is a part of creation inspired by God. Some composers open your heart, so do those who perform it.
    I bought also organ music, it’s like a prayer making you quiet.Indeed some modern music can be impressive too.
    Hard to mention all, such as the Conductor, feeling the heart of the music.

  10. Thanks for sharing that piece from “The Mission.” It is one of the most beautiful melodies on screen.
    A few songs come to mind for me, one being the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone.” My mom used to sing it when I was a child; she learned it from my grandmother. And when my grandma was dying earlier this year, my mother told me how she sang it to my grandma when she could no longer speak or open her eyes. But when she heard my mother sing the song, Grandma smiled.

    • Fr. -That’s something I have always wanted to do. The issue is , I find God in most of my music. I hope I can make my own CDs as well, there will be alot:) Jules-RI

  11. “These are Days” by singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant (then of the band 10,000 Maniacs) – a song that became a sustaining prayer for us two decades ago during the critical illness of our infant son.
    Thank you for your article. I have long been strengthened by the spiritual power and grace that is so often manifested in music.


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Loretta Pehanich
Marina Berzins McCoy
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