Lyrics call to mind both the Psalms and the Catholic rite
I’ll admit it: I’ve been looking for an excuse to publish a song by the man who is probably my all time favorite artist: Matisyahu (that’s Hebrew for Matthew). Ever since my brother played me his Live at Stubb’s album in 2005, I was hooked.
When I was thinking about a song to feature for Ash Wednesday, I knew the time had finally arrived. Obviously, many of our talented contemporary Catholic artists have touched on relevant themes, but it was a Jew from New York who really hit the nail on the head.
Every Ash Wednesday, when I go to receive my ashes – besides of course meditating on sin, penance, and turning back to the Lord – I have Matisyahu’s “On Nature” running through my head. The refrain goes:
We are men of nature // We are made from the earth // At the end of my eighty, I’ll return to the dirt // Just sand, just rock, dry land, fast and silent // Only bein’ only breathin’ // We’re just children of believers
The words of the Ash Wednesday rite should be buzzing in your ears right now: Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. “Remember, o man, that thou are dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
They also sound a lot like the words of the psalmist in Psalm 90:10:
Seventy is the sum of your years, or eighty, if we are strong. Most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone.
It’s a day to remember our death. The ashes are “an outward sign of all we will become, whether we are kings or kooks: ashes.”
It’s a universal reality, which is why it didn’t take a Catholic to write a great Ash Wednesday song. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Joel 2:12-13).
PS: Here’s a great version of Matisyahu’s “On Nature,” sung with Staten Island’s PS22 Chorus:
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