A jazz for the journey sabbatical is beginning...
I love the band Over the Rhine - love them - and celebrate the integrity, depth and beauty they bring into the world. If you don't know their work, you MUST take some time to listen to what Linford Detweiler and his wife and band mate, Karin Bergquist, do as Over the Rhine. (check them out there: http://overtherhine.com/) As our band has ripened over the years, we have used a number of their tunes in worship, on Christmas Eve and on Good Friday.
Not long ago I resubscribed to the journal IMAGE and purchased a copy of the collected essays from their symposium, "WHY BELIEVE IN GOD?" Detweiler has an essay, "A Song before Dying," that warrants multiple readings. He begins by telling the story of a friend who had recently passed away when ALS took her life. While she was in hospice, the day before she died, some friends stopped in for a visit:
There was an electrical outlet next to the bed with a sign above it that read, DO NOT UNPLUG: FOR BED ONLY. But the bed had been unplugged and a different cord connected. This tiny subversive act allowed our friend, on her next to the last day on earth, to listen to music. This has everything to do with why I believe (in God.) When science does what it can to identify our disease, to ease our pain, to provide us with electricity so that our beds can be mercifully adjusted just so, the soul and spirit remain hungry for something else.
If I don't believe in the messy possibility of God, I'm left to believe in the laboratory - that which can be observed, measured, labeled. Stories and music are bigger than the lab, bigger than any sanitized hospital room. I write songs. I know that the music our friend was listening to could not have been nurtured into existence in a carefully controlled environment or captured under microscope.
Like me, Detweiler said, he tried to live without God - with just reason and careful observation and logic as his guide - but "somewhere along the way, from the time I was a child, I was wired to look beyond empirical evidence for something deeper. I've tried to snip that internal wiring at times, to remove God from the circuitry. I have failed. (And) if I were to succeed, my hunch is that I would drain my life of soul, of dimension, that I'd be left closed in, pale and rigid." Trusting that something greater than self, searching for it and being open to its mysterious embrace is the cost and joy of faithful living.
In a few short hours, we will head north once again to Montreal to search out our living arrangements for next year's "Jazz for the Journey" sabbatical. For four full months I will have the privilege and responsibility of resting, practicing the upright bass and carefully reflecting on how my love of music both nurtures my soul and strengthens my congregation for soulful living in these strange and trying times. While we are in one of my favorite places in creation, we will walk and think, ponder and pray and nourish our calling to the mystery of the song. Music, someone wisely observed, is what our feelings sound like. And music is also how more and more of us encounter beauty and awe.
Detweiler concludes his essay with another story, one wherein he was playing a gig in New Zealand in the pouring rain. "We kept waiting for the audience to leave, to throw in the towel and go home. No one was leaving."
So we walked up on the covered stage and we played our songs, and four hundred (mostly) young people stood in the rain and drank in what we had to give... I realized on that stage that very few of us will stand in the pouring rain to hear the evening news, or the latest scientific discovery, or a religious creed of what we supposedly know for sure. But we will stand in the rain for what we hope will be a soulful song. When we got home, I started writing the song that would usher in the rest of my life...
I am off to perform a brief wedding ceremony and then head home to clean and pack the car. Our part of the "Jazz for the Journey" sabbatical has started.