The following is an excerpt from a recent article I wrote, titled Jazz and Jesus, for Trinity Episcopal Church‘s monthly newsletter, The Window of Trinity Church.
“It is the seemingly random notes, clamoring with spontaneous hints of harmonies that dance and mix making the magic and beauty of jazz. Just when you think all roads back to a lead sheet have been challenged by indulgent, erratic singular winds of random clanging, the melody reemerges as strong and original as its beginnings. What is made to sound simple, yet at times complex and against all fundamentals of musical law, works! And works well as steady, seasoned hands of human skill, study, discipline and yielding spirit controls the melodic rudder – exploring variations and limits of fundamentals and familiar law.
Can this also be a story of God working in our lives by sharing his Son in a world set upon seeing God’s law with only eyes of tradition and the past?”
The full article follows or can be found at: The Window of Trinity Church – December 2012
Jazz and Jesus
At the last minute today, my husband and I picked our old bones up off the couch and went to the 12:30 Jazz Mass at Trinity Episcopal Church. Why there? Well, it’s a rather winding tale but suffice it to say – breadcrumbs were laid.With barely enough time to reconsider, we got up and out and drove downtown to the 100-year old church at Holman and Main.
Immediately upon stepping into the church it felt familiar – like stepping into a field of old souls and collective prayers of petition and thanksgiving. The Jazz Mass service is held in the smaller chapel of light blonde woods and deceivingly simple, brilliantly lit-by-the-sun stained glass windows boasting Christian histories and passions. And to the front is displayed the oddest painting I have ever seen in a church, or anywhere, of the rising Christ.
At first I thought the work was just not appropriate with its avant-garde depiction of Jesus as a young, handsome white man. Too handsome. Too white. Too hip. Yet as I sat facing the 9-foot canvas hanging above the simple alter; the more I looked – really looked – I began seeing details and symbols reflecting the power and love of that one moment in time and the sacrifice that changed all moments thereafter.
The crown of thorns falling to the ground; in its place was a crown of blooming lilies. I saw the crowing rooster. I saw the cup and the bread of the night before. I saw bold, emblazoned colors of orange and black and gold filling the resurrection plane with an arresting, atomic style that disturbed my sense of sacred artistry and expression. But then… was not the death and resurrection of Christ the most powerful moment, the greatest detonation of energy and light and waves of consequence ever experienced on our earth? How fitting then is this bomb-like depiction of death-defying resurrection?
Having squared myself to the visual, I allowed the deeper connection and stirring and presence of God to seep and settle into my bones as the pianist coaxed and launched the dissonant notes of jazz. Here, now, and in this church I was once again experiencing the glorious presence of the Holy Spirit. I wallowed in the sweet, sacred syrup of God’s Spirit as expressed through His Word, His music, and our songs of praise. Only my desire to not be distracted or miss part of what God was making possible kept my tears of sentiment, joy and wonder at bay.
The message was good; the liturgy comforting. We shared communion. The ensemble of piano, standup bass, soft jazz drum, four-in-a-chorus singers and us, the congregation, combined to bring back memories of how music, praise, spirit and worship brings us together as a part of the greater whole – God’s community. What fellowship in this Spirit I thought could not be replicated and lost to a time of moving ministers and fading congregations, was lifted to yet greater stirrings in my soul, and the code was broken: of course it’s jazz.
It’s jazz and Jesus.
It is the seemingly random notes, clamoring with spontaneous hints of harmonies that dance and mix making the magic and beauty of jazz. Just when you think all roads back to a lead sheet have been challenged by indulgent, erratic singular winds of random clanging, the melody reemerges as strong and original as its beginnings. What is made to sound simple, yet at times complex and against all fundamentals of musical law, works! And works well as steady, seasoned hands of human skill, study, discipline and yielding spirit controls the melodic rudder – exploring variations and limits of fundamentals and familiar law.
Can this also be a story of God working in our lives by sharing his Son in a world set upon seeing God’s law with only eyes of tradition and the past? Jesus came and introduced a rather radical interpretation of the law while striking a perfect balance of discipline and expansion. Just when the Elders around Him thought they could find a way to accuse Christ of abandoning the Law, He demonstrated faithful fulfillment for the law of love for God and love for one another. When Christ pushed and pulled those closest around Him to expand and test their own hearts, He lifted the Law to higher purposes of mercy and service to others.
He pushed and pulled those around him to test their hearts, challenging them to placing the law within context of their own histories and compassions, and like the early experimentalist in jazz, what appears at times random – isn’t. What appears as straying from our lead sheet of purpose can be the very pathway to a closer walk with God. What may seem disconnected and unrelated; what tragedies or mis-steps may first appear as proof of sin or absence of God, can become part of a tailored melody lovingly weaved with perfect sequence, timing and timbre. Spaces between the notes – time of questioning our faith – becomes as important as the exhale; a seemingly random line of reasoning becomes the root of understanding, and truth triumphs just this side of chaotic collision of self-discipline and free will.
As Jesus yielded to complete the law of sacrificing himself for our sins, He left us with a song of redemption and Grace. The law had never looked or sounded this way before, but with the heart of Jesus it always leads back to the love and care of His and our Father. And all seemingly random acts and shortcomings are made right through the love and redemption of the cross.
Jazz and Jesus.
Today for me, it was a greeting from God that when I yield and follow the small nudge with an open mind, I might get a reminder of how good it can get. And that feeling of practicing seeking God, and praising God with others is precious to me; it too is about as good as it can get. It is life- and spirit-enriching, and Les and I can find this again and again if we are willing to listen for God and not rest on complacency.
We were greeted today in ways we could not have imagined, and I can only close with: I love God, and God loves us. All of us. I got to feel His loving and creative and artful Spirit in my Soul today in a little bit brighter way than some other places, and certainly more than if I had stayed at home on my couch.