Jazz and The Spirit

July 11, 2011 - 8:23 am 41 Comments

UCC Jazz Vespers Service  7/10/11

Reflections on Jazz And The Spirit:

When I was first asked to do this Jazz Vespers, I was struck by how awkward it first appeared to me- yet the challenge was intriguing! I was asked to try to link my research into new inclusive definitions of The Spirit, and the need for a spiritual transformation of church and culture to… Jazz?

How could that be possible?

Well, after mulling it over in prayer and reflection, and after reading what noted jazz musicians have said about the core and vitality of jazz, I feel that there are certain valuable parallels that can be made…

To paraphrase the famous saxophonist Charlie Parker who defined music in these words: [“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you do not live it, it won’t come out of your horn. [Society, and the rules of our culture] teach you that there are definite boundary lines to your music. But, man, there are no boundary lines to art [or the Spirit.]”

The unconventional, and controversial qualities of the Holy Spirit can be connected to and be descriptive of the fierce, dynamic flow of notes and feelings we can find in jazz. Both resist limitations of form, and the strictures of polite conformity.

 Ray Brown concurs when he defines jazz this way:

“Jazz, is to me, a complete lifestyle. Its bigger than a word. It’s a much bigger force than something that you can say.

It is something you have to feel. It is something you have to live.” And Charles Hayden puts it this way: “I want [people who listen to my music] to come away with an ability to discover the music that lives inside them. “

Jazz might well represent the dynamism of the Spirit in the work and art of life because it is transformative, and while it can appear intense or chaotic, it flows purposefully to its internal harmonics that seem to blend into the music of the universe itself.

Jazz and The Spirit can both be summarized here as being too prophetic to control, too mystical to be harnessed, and too transformative to lend any sense of safe security to the listeners or to those who can perceive the deeper resonance and rhythms of life that each represents. It is emotionally passionate and it is thoughtfully reflective… It is lively, and it is pensive… Jazz is one of the rare art forms that can embrace the many dimensions and facets of the human paradox, and allow its many expressions to have a resonant voice of its own…

 The depth psychologist who best understands these challenging metaphors and their potential meanings was Carl Jung, who gave us this observation:

“The action of the Holy Spirit does not meet us in the atmosphere of a normal bourgeois (or proletarian!) sheltered regular life, but only in the insecurity outside of the human economy, in the infinite spaces where one is alone with the providentia Dei. (Divine Providence) We must never forget that Christ was an innovator and a revolutionary, executed with criminals. The reformers and great religious geniuses were heretics. It is there that you find the footprints of the Holy Spirit, and no one asks for the Spirit to work in them or guide their life without having to pay a high price (Jung, 1975b, paragraph 1539).

It could be said, that our very origins at the time of the Creation were instilled with the harmony of the Spheres, and like the rhythms in jazz, possess a incessant melodic freedom that express relentless creativity and an abounding, abiding grace in that brings life into being…

Jazz is like the creative Spirit.  It is a musical style that gives birth to a flowing expression of human inspiration, one that is often intuitive, and containing just such a multifaceted harmonic structure that gives each note its vitality, expression, and purpose as a part of the gracious, flowing whole.

Like no other genre of music and composition, there is no one right way, and even missed notes can lend a human value and credence to the remarkable creative flow and its impressionistic force. It is a vital form of music- essentially creative and ultimately expressive of its own free and gracious forms. It will not be fenced or controlled by tradition, nor will it be limited by our personal expectations. Each time it can be brand new; each time the creative and gracious energies of sound can shape our hearing and our knowing in ways that open up our feelings, and broadcast our sentiments- placing them in a new frame of reference, for all to hear, for all to grasp and know intimately, and then to share universally.

From this and other such allied points of reasoning, I would boldly conclude that the Spirit, as the dynamis of God, is a constant, ever present, unfolding reality, [Playing the jazz of the universe and it is heard with our hearts as well as our ears…]

As such, it is the Spirit that has the capacity to assist humanity in shaping the understanding of its history, and it is Spirit that will positively prepare us for its future.

However, it is our participation that is needed. It is up to every person to pay attention! It is required of us to learn how to listen, and then how to reverently and responsibly act on Spirit’s behalf. Given our indispensable gift of free will, and the awesome ethical responsibility to use it for the greater good, it becomes our core task to take the Spirit’s message of wholeness, integrity, and salvation seriously. We are to learn how best to apply those gracious, challenging, and transformative experiences and insights in our lives.

Then it is up to us personally, reinforced by our churches and spiritual communities, to share it broadly among us and across our world culture. From this melodic impulses, we can move consciously together towards an inclusive, peaceful, and compassionate future.

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