Julien Baker-Modern Psalmist



Julien Baker has been receiving a lot of press lately, not only for her music but how she wrestles with God in her lyrics. Twenty-year-old Baker is brutally honest in dealing with doubt and sadness but unlike her peers, it is clear she is addressing these modern psalms to God. “I acknowledge substance abuse, doubt, fear, sadness and despair in the songs because they’re real emotions that are worth talking about,” Baker tells the Observer. Reminiscent of singer song writer Elliot Smith, her lyrics and delivery are as raw and powerful as the prayers you pray in the back of your closet. Her song, Rejoice, echoes the old refrain “without pain how would be know joy?”

Give me everything good, and I’ll throw it away

I wish that I could quit but I can’t stand the shakes

Her lyrics are a new twist on St Paul’s “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”(Romans 7:15)  Baker has been forthcoming in her problems with substance abuse.  She knows intimately the daily struggle to choose wisely. Her honesty is refreshing in a sea of praise lyrics that we hear today in Christian music.  The reality is that most of us struggle, daily.  Her authenticity is grounded.

But I think there’s a God and He hears either way when I rejoice and complain

Anne Lamott says there are two prayers: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Baker goes one further, she says God hears our complaints too.  He is the God of the Psalms who is not frightened by our anger or our moans. We’ve forgotten this, having presented a clean and tidy gospel to a world that is not clean and tidy.

 Know my name and all of my hideous mistakes
But I rejoice

 As the Psalmist said, God has “searched” and “known” him (Psalm 139), Baker knows God has seen her wretchedness and still cares for her.  Baker’s faith is as gritty as the cross itself. She is the thief on the cross next to Christ who asks, “Remember me”.

Julien Baker’s pain, struggle and hope for redemption is one those with faith and those still finding theirs, can connect with.  She points us to Christ with the most aching yearning that even St Augustine would agree with his refrain “All souls are restless until we find rest in Him.”