Reflections on "Deep Within" from today's worship...

Let me reflect on a most enlightening element from this morning's worship: our discussion
following the presentation of the song, "Deep Within." For those who have followed my previous posts, the set up involved linking the poetry and promise of the prophet Isaiah's words in chapter 40 with our shared sabbatical. I said to the congregation:


Chapter 40 begins with those agonizingly tender words we proclaim during Advent: Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak of peace thus saith the Lord. Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning under sorrow’s load. And it keeps getting better and better:  Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? The  Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

After giving those in worship the historical context of exile and return, I noted that God's promise of renewal held particular poignancy for the elderly whose re-entry into Jerusalem would be a mixture of hope and heartbreak. "They would recall the Temple’s former glory when they saw it in ruins. They once harvested food from fields now barren and bleak. And they had given birth to families who were now dead or missing or still in exile. To the most vulnerable and fragile refugees, God makes a promise:  You shall RENEW your strength. You who have waited upon the Lord, YOU shall mount up with wings like an eagle, YOU shall run and not be weary, YOU shall walk and not be faint."

Our sabbatical is to be a time of shared renewal - not just for the pastor - but for the whole congregation. And one of the things we will share together is an experiment with what I call "the spirituality of jazz."  As Dianne and I work on music and photography in Montreal, the congregation will learn and listen to sacred and secular jazz in new way. They will be asked to think and feel deeply - to trust the journey of a song - and embrace it like grace; that is, with hearts open and a sense of sacred adventure. To make my point, we then played a new hymn by David Hass, "Deep Within," and gave it four distinct treatments: 1) straight instrumental to highlight the melody; 2) two verses sung in unison and then harmony to emphasize a new layer of imagination and cooperation; 3) two instrumental passes (piano and upright bass) under the guidance of a jazz chart; and 4) a return to the vocalists but this time utilizing the jazz structure under the established melody. (I hope to post a video of this musical prayer soon.)

And here is what was fascinating to me: at first people did not know how to talk about what they had just experienced. I wasn't asking them to reflect theologically nor tell me how the prophetic poem of Isaiah fit with the music. Rather, I invited them to tell me how they felt during each phase of this song and then consider what their feelings might mean from the perspective of prayer and faith.  Here's what they said:

+ At first, NOTHING. I was stunned - and perhaps so were they. The song was one of the most tender musical meditations we have done, so it could be they were all in a very deep and quiet place. But I was still surprised at their silence.

+ So I broke my question into four sequences: what were you experiencing during the first instrumental pass of this song?  Oh they started to say... hmmm... it felt soothing and restful.  Exactly... and as you rested more fully into the the sweetness of the sound, what happened next? I felt surrounded by a sense of love and an awareness of inner peace.

+ And when the vocalists came in, what then? I was aware of the feminine presence of God...those three female voices brought balance in a way that was holy...I was moved by the interplay of the voices, the way harmonies embraced one another and then became one in unison. The voices gave shape and direction to the song.

+ What was going on within you when the song transitioned into a jazz instrumental? The voices kept echoing inside me like memory, I could hear the voices through what was being played instrumentally and that grounded me even when the improvisation went into uncharted territory... the instrumental reminded me of what you said about refugees and exile - I am from Columbia where there are a lot 'displaced and disappeared' - so as the improvisation went deeper I wondered if the voices would ever return, and I was relieved and renewed when they came back... it was like a journey that I had to trust - like grace - where I don't know what is going to happen next but have to trust that it will be of the Lord. (NOW we were cookin!)

+ And the closing restatement of vocalists singing in harmony over a jazz treatment of the song's structure? It was clear that something beautiful had been created that could NOT have happened individually... it felt like I had been on a meditative journey that went deep inside and gave me room to move before bringing me back to the community... I heard two very different styles working closely together in a way I would never have expected.

Two comments from after worship are worth mentioning, too: 1) I am learning to actually like jazz - it isn't all noise to me - there is meaning and purpose and deep thought. This is going to be fun. And 2) today really laid-out the structure and methodology of this sabbatical; I don't have much experience thinking about music - and none talking about what is going on as I experience the song - but now I have a frame of reference. I am very excited.

One of my hopes for our time in sabbatical together is that we come to trust the promise of God’s rest more deeply and more openly. Our healing, our hope, our continuing renewal and value as a congregation truly rests upon the Lord – who will renew our strength – as we return and rest. That is one commitment. The other is this: I hope that we as a congregation can all learn to become more… playful.  Foolish in our trust of God’s grace. Foolish is our willingness to take greater risks in extending that grace to a broken world. Such is the foolishness of the Cross and the call to follow as Christ's disciples. This is going to be great. (After worship I met with some of our teens and asked them to take their video clips of this song and play with it, using their creativity to make a You Tube posting. We shall see...)

One closing note: my colleague and music director observed in our time for reflection that one of the unknowns in playing live music is how the energies, expectations and insights of the artists meet those of the audience. Those weren't his words exactly, but that's what I heard suggesting that no matter what WE bring to the event, it always interacts with what YOU bring - and that is always changing. In his book, Bridge of Waves, writer/musician, W.A. Mathieu, writes: the way music's lessons and life's lessons modulate one another have become the substance of my life...(the improvised note that I play) comes from a hidden part of myself, the same part that has come from the very first sound ever made. My note is a direct descendent of The Word that In the Beginning There Was... All of this is so wild, sweet and wonderful to me.

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