Friday, December 29, 2017

a spirituality of music and grace: taste and see...

As I reflect on the arch of my ministry, the gestalt of creating and performing music in public has been foundational. Not only does sound resonate in our flesh, music touches our emotions and minds, too. How we respond, consciously as well as beneath and beyond our consciousness, is a marvelous
mystery that holds the potential for healing. I thought of this last night after a few hours of working together with musicians I love, trust and respect. Two truths strike me as useful to note:

+ First, jazz master Wynton Marsailis has noted that the trust and disciplined intuition of musical comrades on the bandstand simultaneously creates an experience of vulnerability and cooperation among the players; and, shows the audience what is possible in a world where listening, commitment and creativity are blended with respect and joy. When performers are in the groove, when each and all are hearing what is taking place in the moment while anticipating the possibilities of what might yet develop, a synergy happens that is mystical. The players are energized, lifted into a place of beauty greater than their individual gifts and possibilities, that is pure grace. It is a prospect impossible to own or control yet always anticipated, if only in the most amorphous way. At the same time, those who are experiencing the blessing of the bandstand can find themselves equally strengthened and renewed. The skill and shared compassion of the players is contagious for those who are willing to be touched. It doesn't happen at every performance. The realities of both musicians and audience always shape what is experienced, as well. But when the stars are aligned in a way beyond comprehension, heaven and earth meet as hope and justice embrace in a kiss.

+ Second, once the miracle of the bandstand is encountered, it cannot be denied. It can be forgotten or ignored. It can be dismissed or denigrated as emotionalism or manipulation. But for the pure of heart, when music touches our hearts as pure gift, sensuality and spirituality become real. We know beyond words that solidarity is possible and compassionate trust is the way through the darkness. Even mistakes can lead to new discoveries for those listening well and willing to use their skills with love. Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock tells of a time in Paris with the Miles Davis band that he was playing a well rehearsed tune when out of nowhere he hit a clunker. Davis looked at him out of the corner of his eye and proceeded to echo the wrong note on his trumpet. Miles made the chord "right" in a way that turned Hancock's mistake into a new road to explore. Davis covered the slip-up with humor, grace, respect and genius - and Hancock learned what grace can mean in life.

Please don't misunderstand: I am not saying that those who have tasted this forgiveness in music are consistent in sharing it. We're not. Such is the human condition. Rather, what I know is that when my errors in playing are accepted and transformed into something beautiful by my band mates, I have been schooled in grace. I have been taught the way of gratitude. And it is up to me to pass on to others as good as I have been given.  And that continues to be why I insist on doing music in church - and beyond. When we taste and see, we are forever transformed.

As our small jazz ensemble of vocalists, guitar players, piano maestro and bass player prepare for our January 7, 2018 gig, I give thanks to God for what I have experienced. I pray, too that we might share it in a way that is palpable and true. 

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