Jazz, action and contemplation in worship and life...

Last night my sabbatical team met to discuss the practical necessities for the time I am away in 2015. One aspect of our conversation, having to do with exposing the congregation to more jazz meditation encounters in worship, continues to grab my imagination: specifically that the essence of jazz worship is contemplation. To share jazz in public worship is to encourage the gathered faithful to enter a personal journey with sound, spirit and soul. At its best, this type of musical meditation becomes the inward equivalent of the outward sounds created and expressed in jazz improvisation. To my mind, jazz meditation in public worship expresses the paradox of being on both an inward and outward journey in the same moment.

And for our faith community this creates a unique creative challenge: we have worked hard to make public worship a fully participatory experience. My messages are usually dialogical and informal. There is space in most gatherings for movement of body and mind as well as the exercise of our senses and imaginations. How, then, do we continue advancing participatory worship when the jazz medium is primarily contemplative? We're going to use the next 10 months to experiment with ways of weaving jazz meditation into our celebration of  God's awe and grace in Sunday worship. Clearly, the inward beauty of jazz vespers works for those seeking a meditative encounter. Now we have to find a way for it to work on Sunday morning.

Two clues came to me this morning: one from Parker Palmer and the other from Richard Rohr. In Palmer's book, A Hidden Wholeness, he offers these examples of what a divided heart and life looks like in contemporary America:

+ We refuse to invest ourselves in work, diminishing its quality and distancing ourselves from those it is meant to serve.

+ We make our living at jobs that violate our basic values, even when survival does not absolutely demand it.

+ We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits.

+ We harbor secrets to achieve personal gain at the expense of other people.

+ We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge and change.

+ We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.

In a word, we live part of our public life divorced from the inner beauty that God has created within us since before there was time. And continuing to live in with a divided heart forces us farther and farther away from grace and rest. Could it be that finding a way to experience both active participation in worship as well as deep contemplation is part of the antidote to the status quo? 

Clearly today's reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr points in that direction. Rohr is currently writing about the unity of 12 Step spirituality and the wisdom of Jesus. His insights about the sixth step are brilliant.

We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. — Step Six of the Twelve Steps

Step Six, although not commonly followed, is thoroughly biblical. It struggles with—and resolves—the old paradox of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. It first recognizes that we have to work to see our many resistances, excuses, and blockages; but then we have to fully acknowledge that God alone can do the “removing”! But which should come first, grace or responsibility? The answer is that both come first.
All we can do is get out of the way and then the soul takes its natural course. Grace is inherent to creation from the beginning (Genesis 1:2), just like springtime; but it is a lot of work to get out of the way and allow that grace to fully operate and liberate.

Step Six paradoxically says that we must fully own and admit that we have “defects of character,” but then equally, we must step back and do nothing about it, as it were, until we are “entirely ready” to let God do the job!This really shows high-level spiritual consciousness. The waiting, the preparing of the mind for grace, the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, and the actual willingness to change is the workof weeks, months, and years. But the recognition that it is finally “done unto me” is the supreme insight of the Gospels, which is taught practically in Step Six. It is the same prayer of Mary at the beginning of her journey (Luke 1:38) and of Jesus at the end of his life (Luke 22:42): “Let it be done unto me!”

We named our whole work after this dilemma: “The Center for Action and Contemplation.” It seems we must both take responsibility (action) and surrender (contemplation).

Over the next few weeks as we vacation and rest, I will be holding this challenge in my heart. My hunch is that the answer is already within us and we simply have to trust God's grace to make it clear.  We shall see - but now it is time to get my instruments ready as I have a jazz gig tonight. 


ddl said…
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ddl said…
Thought you might enjoy the following...
Today in prayer I found this poem by Jane Hirshfield which has a great opening line re. "rest and solitude":

Her poem is called
Vinegar and Oil

"wrong solitude vinegars the soul,
right solitude oils it.

How fragile we are, between the few good moments.

Coming and going unfinished,
puzzled by fate,

like the half-carved relief
of a fallen donkey, above the church door in Finland."

It strikes me that an entire sermon could be preached on that first line about the vinegar and oil...or the space between moments...or the fallen donkey...half-carved.

Re. Jazz service...that is a possibility for us too-- maybe someday-- in this community after significant community building-- or maybe as a creative possibility. Sending prayers for success and beauty!
RJ said…
Thanks ddl - I LOVE Ms. Hirshfield's poem and will use this one often. Thanks and blessings to you, too!

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