De bonnes vacances avec le jazz... (vacation with jazz)

In ten days we leave for the 34th annual Festival International de Jazz de MontrealIt is certainly one of my most favorite things to share with Dianne. Last year we were there for her 50th and my 60th birthdays.  This year, one of our daughters and her husband will join us for three days.  We have separate flats in the city just a block from another favorite place:  Marche Jean Talon - a wonderful city block filled with fresh produce vendors, assorted boulangeries et les boucheries (bakeries and butchers) as well as flowers, street musicians and a whole lot more.

Being in this groove - in this city - sets my soul to rest in unique ways: it is simultaneously sensual and spiritual, invigorating and restful, intellectually creative and emotionally hospitable.  Of course, I am on holiday - de bonnes vacances - and 500 miles away from my quotidian responsibilities.  I am not so naive or ungrounded to pretend this isn't a big piece of the puzzle.  And, as I have discovered over the past 6 years of exploring this place, something else is going on, too.

+ For one thing, I truly love the French Canadian aesthetic.  It is edgy and beautiful at the same time.  It is cautiously bi-lingual, too.  I am fascinated by the way young Quebecers flawlessly flip between French and English with perfect accents in both tongues.  As a life-long genre-bender I am energized by the challenge of finding my place in this swirl of possibilities.  In some ways, of course, I am a total outsider - and this is liberating and humbling.  It forces me to think and work harder about being present.  It asks that I listen more than speak - observe more than share - study more than conclude.  And at 61 I need this kind of vitality lest I slip all too easily into my well-tested role of old guy-pastor-teacher-father-husband-musician.  My heart wants to keep learning the Lord's NEW song.
+ Another thing that intrigues me is this city's fierce dedication to the arts.  The creative realm is everywhere and in all types of settings: free and costly - public and private - entertaining and stimulating.  Unlike many cities I have visited and/or lived in, Montreal seems intentionally family friendly so it is not unusual to see many children in museums, open air concerts and galleries. Public transportation is accessible, fast, inexpensive and safe. There are vast public gathering places - both natural and created - that invite people to slow down and watch, savor or stroll.  And let's not forget the two or three cafes on every corner, too.

In his book, Resurrection City, Peter Goodwin Hetzel writes about being in a small Greenwich Village jazz club that mixes a reverence for the past with a commitment to creative innovation.  "Jazz is music, multiplicity and magic all in one. It is a multilayered experience of the musical dimension of our humanity. It touches the blue note in our heart, but offers a new way of experiencing life: life together. Making music together gives each musician the chance to sing his or her song. Listening to others' songs propels us to sing our own. May our life song bear witness to the jazzlike Creator, whose Spirit continues to hover over, under, in and above creation. Jazz energies us to move with the Spirit."

That's what being in Montreal feels like to me.  I am currently working on a proposal for a grant that would allow me to spend 3+ months in Montreal for my sabbatical studying jazz liturgy and upright bass.  My goal is to rest and reflect, hone my musicality and create four liturgies celebrating the sacred in each season. I love the way Bruce Ellis Benson puts it in his Liturgy as a Way of Life:

If God is a creator, and we are made in God's image, we are likewise intended to be creative... Of course, we are not "creators" in the strong sense that God is: only God can bring forth creation from nothing... But, still, we have the God-given ability to create - or better yet, improvise - which is both a great honor and a mandate from God.  Just as we are called to "be fruitful and multiply," so are we called to be creative in all that we do... As creators, we are called to a wonderfully meaningful life.  We are not called to live in rote obedience to God; we are called to be creative in all we do - as opposed to living a life of sheer industrial labor.

My musical/liturgical sabbatical will be grounded in praying the hours - the monastic way of giving shape and order to time - with particular attention given to vespers.  There is a long jazz tradition of being playful with this early evening office.  My hope involves saturating myself in the jazz vespers tradition and then seeing where the Spirit leads re: creating four new/old expressions to be shared in our home congregation.  In the editor's note to Benson's book, James K.A. Smith writes:

Over the past couple of centuries, the church's worship - perhaps especially in Protestant evangelicalism - has unwittingly mimicked the rationalism and dualism of modernity. Assume with Descartes that humans are primarily "thinking things," worship has been centered on didactic teaching.  A few songs merely function as a preface to a long sermon, the goal of which is the dissemination of information to brains-on-a-stick, sitting on their hands. The body has no role in such worship; it is worship for the proverbial brains-in-a vat of philosophical fame. And because the body has no essential role in such worship, there is no place for the arts, which are inherently sensible - even sensual... In rationalist worship spaces, even the wallpaper is didactic...

So what's lost in modernity and our unwitting adoption of rationalism is just the sort of sacramentality that under girds Christian affirmation of the body - the same sensibility that values the arts. The metaphysics of modernity flattens the world, reducing human persons to information processors. And if we by into this, we will worship accordingly. The didactic will trump the affective; the intellect will crowd out the imaginative; the body will be present only as a vehicle to get the mind in the pew. Welcome to the cathedral of Descartes.

And so we will soon "retreat" to Montreal - for jazz, for prayer, for renewal, for a sensual and sensible encounter with the Spirit.

credits:
1) Montreal Jazz Festival by Carole Spandau @ http://fineartamerica.com/ featured/montreal-jazz-festival-carole-spandau.html
2) Poster:  Montreal Jazz Festival 2009
3) Crowd at Montreal Jazz Festival
4) www.johnabbott.qc.ca

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