Gravitas and grace continued...

It was in the fourth grade, I think that I first experienced the transcendent power of music. During our twice a week music appreciation class ~ can you even imagine such a thing in a working class school today? ~ I was exposed to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scherherazade" and "Danse Macabre" by Saint-Saens.  I had already heard Little Richard and Elvis as well Little Eva ~ and loved them all ~ but GET OUTTA TOWNthis music took me to a whole other level and I've not been the same since.  I was taken beyond the ordinary, my imagination was inflamed and I had a sense that a beauty greater than my experience could be encountered in my ordinary, everyday life.  Not that I could have used those words in fourth grade, but that is what I felt as I played this music over and over again on my little record player. 

Soon I added Rossini's "William Tell Overture," "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker Suite" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to the collection.  And when I came across Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" (number 6) and Ravel's "Bolero" (long before the move "10") I was certain that I had died and gone to heaven.  A few years later, the Beatles came along and music become my primary means of entering God's mystery beyond the obvious.

I note these truths because M. Craig Barnes has observed that a "pastor who wants to offer God's grace must begin by inviting the congregation to remember their old yearnings for beauty, delight and wild adventure."

Recovering such a passionate life is the work of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and it is one of the reasons why we call him a savior. But describing that life is the work of poets - and every time the pastor is given the opportunity to move from small talk to poetry - through pastoral care, counseling, devotionals and sermons - he or she (better not) simply quote Scripture.  As a minor poet, the pastor has to maintain both sides of the conversation between God and the people. If the pastor only presents biblical words to the congregation, the holy conversation succumbs to a one-sided lecture... the pastoral task is to find ways of expressing sublimated longings, longings that have become inaccessible because we easily lose touch (with the mystery) in a world full of chess players. (p. 36, The Pastor as Minor Poet)

Over the years I have discovered that music helps more people reconnect with their passions than many other forms of art:  it is immediate, it is profound and it is sensual.  As Bonhoeffer once said about Bach's "Mass in B-minor" the sheer beauty is evidence of God's gratuitous gift of grace.  Apparently, just the memory of this music kept him grounded during his years in a Nazi prison.  One reason why so much of Reformed worship became so "wordy" - so cerebral and abstract - is our fear of the sensual and the beautiful. 

Another way of saying that is that we are afraid of Christ's incarnation:  if God became flesh, then our flesh is holy.  What's more, if our flesh is holy, then so is everyone else's and how we care for that flesh matters.  Compassion and justice become sacred expressions of faith and the celebration of beauty.  And, as Clarence Jordan (who would have been 100 this year) makes so clear, just so that we comprehend the sacred, compassionate nature of real humanity, whenever Christ makes an appearance he always brings with him his beautiful, wounded, complicated and wildass friends.  In a word, can be no real gravitas without embodied grace and incarnational living.  NO Christ on a pedestal for us, ok?

So can you remember when you were first opened to a life bigger than your own?  A beauty beyond the ordinary?  A love deeper than your pain?  A grace that took you into your imagination?

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