The chosen ones are walking through the new desert
All the way uptown, Riverside
The faces of the fathers, they look a lot like mine,
but I watch them from across a great divide.

Today they have all been forgiven
Washed clean before another year begins
Me, I’m playing in the park with my children
And I pray they forgive me my sins.

This is my sanctuary
On this high holy day
Lay down the burdens I carry
In my sanctuary.

The forgotten ones were screaming from the rooftops
A thousand souls had all been washed away
Everyone was told, the levee wouldn’t hold
And now the mourners, they're marching everyday.

And the music keeps right on playing
But of all the places water wouldn’t fall
Wasn't the churches or the chapels
It was down at the Preservation Hall.

"This is my sanctuary,"
You can almost hear the ghost of some old trumpet player say,
"Lay down the burdens that you carry
In my Sanctuary."

The chosen ones are all still searching
Waiting for a savior to appear
While you and me, we congregate in mystery
And I listen to you whisper in my ear.

This is my sanctuary
Brothers and sisters let us pray
Lay down the burdens I carry
In my sanctuary.

Lay down the burdens I carry
In my sanctuary.
My Sanctuary
My Sanctuary

Lyrics submitted by MLevySC

My Sanctuary song meanings
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    My InterpretationThis is a song about Marc Cohn's experience as a non-religious Jew looking at religious Jews and musing about his own secular spirituality. As a secular Jew myself, I can relate to the bittersweet feelings it embodies.

    In the first verse he is watching Orthodox Jews in Manhattan's Upper West Side (Riverside Drive) walking as they often do on holidays. In this case it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. The reference to "the new desert" is probably a reference to the 40 year long trip to the promised land after the exodus from Egypt in the Bible. It implies that these Jews still haven't found home.

    On Rosh Hashanah observant Jews ask God for forgiveness. Marc hopes that his children will provide that for him instead. In the first chorus, "This is my sanctuary" seems to refer to the refuge he feels in his love for his children.

    Then the song shifts to New Orleans after Katrina, the period when this song was written. There may be some irony in the fact that the forgotten souls on the rooftops may have prayed to God, but didn't heed the warnings that the levee wouldn't hold...and now the mourners are marching every day. The next stanza reinforces this impression by pointing out that while many churches were flooded out, Preservation Hall, the heart of the New Orleans music tradition, survived. An old trumpet player's ghost now claims the chorus, "This is my sanctuary."

    In the last verse we return to the Jews briefly: they are still waiting for a savior (religious Jews believe that the Messiah is still to come). Then, to me, the most mysterious couplet of the song, "You and me congregate in mystery, and I listen to you whisper in my ear." This could refer to any spiritual setting or perhaps the spirituality of being with a loved one.

    In any case, he invites us all to join him in the sanctuary--"Let us pray," presumably in whatever place we find redemption in our lives. Gospel singers echo the message as the song closes, making a fitting pairing with the gospel piano player in "Walking in Memphis," to whom Marc answers, "Ma'am I am (a Christian) tonight" as he, the Jewish piano player, jams with the gospel band.
    MLevySCon May 11, 2015   Link

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