All of our major obligations on this side of the sabbatical are complete - and now it is 10 days. In worship yesterday, which marked the 8th anniversary of my call to our church, we played a LOT of jazz. We also played three compositions featuring our vocalists, too. And while there are always a few in the congregation who are uncomfortable whenever we play so much music, I've mostly come to a place where I realize that is their problem. So, we went for the heart of beauty and here are some of my observations:
+ Paul Winter's "Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon" is a challenging score. We had first thought of presenting the whole "Missa Gaia" on April 19th, but weather, health and a variety of other events beyond our control made it clear that was never going to be. I am glad we paid attention. We quit working on the first movement during Lent, let it simmer until after Easter and then returned to it with renewed vigor. It was certainly the most ethereal and mystical selection we shared for the glory of God and God's people in worship yesterday - and it really came together. Three comments are worth repeating: 1) One man said, "I guess I didn't know what to expect when I heard that you were going to be playing a "jazz Mass." I thought it would be a lot of complex noise and movement and that I wouldn't like it - I would just endure it. But this was moving, stunning and deeply beautiful. It was a spiritual experience and now I can't wait to hear the whole thing!" 2) a woman who has only been with us in worship a few times said, "I was weeping - moved beyond myself - both by the beauty of the music AND the intense commitment of the singers and musicians. I have never heard church music like this before." And 3) an email that arrived shortly before bedtime read: What a beautiful, deep song. It said to me that this world is our home that God made for us. All that we see day and night God gave to us (as a precious gift)... we must respect this house the God made for us for if we don't. the results can hurt us. This song should be the anthem for Earth Day."
+ Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was equally challenging - mostly because we did it in a stripped down way with LOTS of open space and emotional longing. It was slowed way down so that the vocalists could spend as much time as they needed telling the story of the lyrics - and they made it come alive. One man told me, "I was hanging on every word." He went on to say, "You should record this and send it out to some of our veteran's organization. This should become the theme song for "Soldier On." I was overwhelmed with tears at that moment both because I had never thought of reaching out to a vets group in this way AND because it rang so true. Currently a small group of vets and allies are working throughout the year to make sure our congregation remembers their stories and connects with them in meaningful ways. We have assumed responsibility for keeping the Vietnam Memorial on Park Square cleaned throughout the year. We open our Sanctuary for quiet prayers of remembrance on both Memorial Day and Hiroshima Day. And now maybe a new door has been opened...
+ "All Blues" is what my sabbatical feels like to me - flowing, bluesy, a little bit edgy but also saturated with compassion. It is what the gospel we read feels like: go and learn what this means - I desire mercy not religion. To share this vocally and instrumentally was a treat and our singers and players made it smoke. There could be no ambiguity when that tune was over that the spirituality I celebrate is sensual, embodied and all about being real in the moment. We all got a chance to "solo" on that one, too making it fun and totally new to both the players and the congregation. It is one of my favorite Miles Davis compositions and playing it with Jon, Dianne, Jon and Carlton is always an answer to prayer for me.
+ And then the two instrumentals - Ellington's "C-Jam Blues" a la Oscar Peterson and
Cartlon Maiia II and Mr. Maiia's arrangement of TRURO - were just flat out fun and beautiful. As has been said before, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" and both of these tunes gave me the chance to walk that bass all OVER the neck while the drummer hit syncopated shots and Carlton danced through the keyboard. We wanted to set the tone and "C-Jam Blues" made it clear that something special was about to happen. And then closing the morning with a jazz chart based on the opening hymn... too kewel for school.
As I was leaving, an old timer said to me: "Are we going to have more time for quiet contemplation AND wild-crazy-spiritual-sensual-beautiful music like we heard today when you get back from your sabbatical" All I could do is smile and nod. I don't know what I will be like when we get back in September. I don't know what changes the congregation will have been through nor do I want to know - right now. I am just eager to get on the road. Di and I are clear that we're going to be gentle with time as this unfolds. We'll walk and wander, pray and play, feast and rest as the Spirit leads us. I will practice my instruments. She will hone her craft as a photographer. And we will entrust our congregation to God's grace in a new type of trust. Yes, yesterday was prelude to the future - and I rejoice in the possibilities. But now is not the time for making plans. Now is the time for being rather than doing...
Here's one of my favorite bands, Oregon, doing a tune that feels like the promise of all of this wrapped together.
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