Jazz and Jesus

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.

Grace of Faith

“It has pleased Thee to withhold from me a perfect knowledge; therefore deny me not the grace of faith by which I may lay hold of things unseen.” A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.

I love this phrase: grace of faith.  I love that it has meaning to me because of personal experience, and I love that it is here in my morning time to remind me that I am not alone in need and facing what feels like fear of fear (future events appearing real).

Since my sister passed away earlier this year I have noticed that a new line of fears have emerged and teased for my attention.  I’ve noticed that in June and July, five or six months before the holidays, I am afraid of what my first Christmas will look like without Mom and Dad and Sis.  I’m afraid of being suddenly struck with a new and debilitating discovery that all the farmhouses and their holdings of family Bibles and 8mm film canisters are gone – disappeared – lost and no longer a two hour plane trip away.  And I’m surprised by how intensely I fear losing Les; what would I do, how could I survive if something were to happen to my best friend, my husband, my only* remaining family? 

Without too much resistance or procrastination, I mentioned these recent fear-based distractions to my friend.  She knows me well; she holds my story in trust with an objectivity that I can not recall or see.  She listened, nodded, and asked: are these fears the kind that can stay on the shelf?  “You know”, she continued, “the kind that are there, always present, but reserved for the most well-grounded, prayed-up times, and the ones that can usually be kept separate from daily thoughts or influence.”  What I’ll call “shelf-fears”.

What a great question. 

She also suggested that I have already come through what I had imagined would kill me, and I had in fact survived with an even greater faith.  She went on to tell me that there is no reason to believe any future event would be met with any less of God’s strength and love as has carried me before.

What a great reminder of trust.

With these tools of being heard and seen, and in the light of love, I can afford to examine and determine which ones are in my life for a purpose of being noticed and possibly resolved today, or of a nature that I can afford to notice but leave on the shelf?  And I can look back to my own past experiences of how God can re-shape fears into blessings with surprisingly positive outcomes.

So, I can’t help but wonder that in God’s perfect knowledge this Christmas may also hold a particular beautiful bit of Grace.  This passage, these questions to look deeper into the nature and limits of my fears, reminds me how I know that God can re-shape fears to blessings and set my feet back on solid ground and trust – at least for the moment.  And I can be in the day, this day.  This moment is where I can put my fears back onto the shelf and call to memory my own experiences of Grace of Faith.  And that too is Grace.

 *’only’ is not exactly true as I have my wonderful in-laws and cousins, but as many of us know, fears are not always rational nor accurate.

Take Heart

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 NKJV

Over the past two years the word “heart” has taken on significant symbolism for me.  In my vocation of Sacred Support the logo sprung from my imagination as two hearts connecting with a tag line to reflect the guiding principals of listening with our hearts.  Plus many of the readings, sermons and lectures including one my husband and I attended in Austin, with keynote speaker John Philip Newell, have been focusing around the heart of our natures as faithful, yet sometimes fearful Christians and human beings just trying to get along.

Whether all of these messages were truly centered on this subject – well, I’m not sure.  More likely I have been seeking, searching, recognizing and pulling heart from these many and varied sources as part of a greater synchronicity to bolster my own self-selected spiritual journey. Continue reading

A Discouraged Child

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21

On Sunday I read Colossians, and one of the verses struck me – boldly affirming of how well God knows us and our natures, the immediate and lasting value of loving relationships, as well as the gift of finding new words in God’s timeless messages to us.

I was reading the verses around this one, the ones made more familiar by weddings and sermons; then when reading about parent/child relationships I heard consequences that God felt grave enough to mention it here for the ages: a discouraged child.

I know exactly what that looks like – in me, in those I love, and in the life of friends who experienced childhood abandonments (passive and not-so-passive) and it is not right. Enough not right that God chose these particular words (in this translation anyway) to vehemently call it out as a “don’t do”!

He could have said: don’t provoke lest your child will not turn out right, abandon you, shame you, be filled with demons or be burned up like dry grass. But He didn’t. Simply and concisely God reminds us of the generational consequences of our actions, and the importance of a parent’s role in protecting a child’s sense of encouragement in themselves, their purposes and their faith.

This Book is filled with God’s Word that strikes an ear with newness and love when I look for relatable issues and problems and loving support and suggestions. Today the main take away for me is: God does not want us to be, or become, discouraged – at least not as a result of a parent’s selfish/self-willed provoking ways.

That’s a gem worth looking for on a Sunday morning.

Why does it feel so wrong when we do something so right?

Today I had a bittersweet visit with a friend who had to say no to what at first appeared to be a promising new relationship. Darn it. I hated that it wasn’t going to work out for her, and once again I marvel at the courage I see in her saying “no” when “yes” would have been so much more fun.

At least for a little while.

It made me think: why do we get thrown these emotional curve balls when we are trying to change self-sabotaging patterns in relationships with food, with money, with others and with ourselves? And, why does it feel so wrong when we do something so right?

I believe it is common for the universe (and I don’t really mean God here) to deploy decoys during the early stages of going into a new direction; practicing new behaviors in old dysfunctional fields of habits. It’s a human, just-how-this-works kind of thing. When options come up that look like invitations to return or keep the old, like when an old boyfriend calls or a way too-expensive-for-our budget couch goes on sale, I don’t see it anymore as some maniacal testing of faith.

With faith in ourselves and the decisions we made in saner moments, these alluring teasers can be soulfully-lead opportunities to review and renew our commitment to our higher selves. And a time to ask again, “Is this what I really want now, and for the long haul”? “Is this a path to better ways or a course of choices paved in illusions of least resistance”?

The temptress becomes the teacher when we can pause in willingness to listen for the voice of our soul, and wage today’s discomfort against tomorrow’s peace.

After the initial exciting glee or disappointment, depending on what I allow my true self to hear, I have a chance of welcoming the “no” as practice and “yes” as a statement that I do choose the healthier option. The yes becomes a choice in reinforcing new ideals, where I want to be, and declaring to the universe and to myself that “Yes! This new path is what I want, and I am willing to risk and experience the uncomfortable feelings that may come with change!”

Where God comes in (and here I do mean God) is right beside me to help me first see the truth and value in saying no, then to bring on the power to actually say no, with comfort as Counselor of gentle assurances that something better is coming my way.

Something or someone even more loving becomes possible because I am willing to experience the pain of a no for the potential joy of the yes.

The saying “you are being dramatic” was used when I was a discouraged child in tears of disappointment, abandonment or disregard, or the artistic young woman in love who wanted to see New York City. Worse though was the silence that asked me to avoid and deny what was breaking my heart or what I didn’t understand. It didn’t work then, and now if I listen to the language of old it is the beginning of a death march towards depression and self-imposed denial of who and what I am.

So now when the old shows up, by invitation to say yes to a past that I know in my heart-of-hearts has not changed for the good, or suggestion to swallow feelings and stay silent and quiet when my heart is full of pain or joy, I am practicing saying no to the stagnant stillness, and saying yes to the whispering song of my Soul.

And when the yes to the good feels more wrong than the no, we can do this together with ideal in hand and God in our hearts.

Welcome to this space – a gathering place for the mind, body and soul.