John Coltrane & “A Love Supreme”

April is Jazz Appreciation month. Nothing so instantly calls my thoughts back to days of reading, paper-writing, and test prepping than jazz – listening to the lilting, dissonant-yet-concordant notes while sipping coffee in a local shop, working my way through college.

I think music is God’s way of melding beauty and truth in such a way that man’s heart and mind are engaged and inspired. Such melding of beauty and truth is marvelously illustrated in the story behind “A Love Supreme,” John Coltrane’s crowning work. In honor of Jazz Appreciation month, I share it here.

The following piece is by Caroline Cross writing for The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics” (www.tifwe.org). It was originally posted April 28, 2015 under the title John Coltrane’s Faith & Work Story Behind “A Love Supreme.” Many thanks to my dear friend Gabriel Hinerman for gifting this record to me in a season of deep despair.

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April in the District of Columbia is a magical time of year. Washington welcomes a cloud of pink petals amidst the blooming cherry trees at the tidal basin.

Signs of spring aside, April also holds another reason to celebrate. The month is commemorated as Jazz Appreciation Month. This singularly American genre of music originated in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century. Just a few notes of the genre’s distinctive rhythms evoke the smell of beignets and coffee in the French Quarter and the warm spice of Cajun gumbo in a crowded sidewalk café.

John Coltrane

Just as New Orleans would not be the same without the lilting tones of a jazz melody on the saxophone, jazz itself would not be the same without saxophonist John Coltrane. In his book The Call, Os Guinness tells the story of the jazz giant.

Guinness recounts the early success of “Trane,” who played in combos headed up by jazz greats Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis. While success was sweet, it did not satisfy.

In the early years of the 1950s, Coltrane’s life teetered close to a tragic end due to a near-fatal drug overdose in San Francisco. The traumatic experience proved transformative, as the brush with death ultimately led Coltrane to an encounter with God.

Guinness writes that Coltrane’s finest work came after this divine appointment, including his famous piece “A Love Supreme,” in which he responded musically to his experience of the power of God’s love.

Guinness recounts that after a particularly superb live performance of A Love Supreme, Coltrane left the stage with the words “Nunc dimittis” (“Now you dismiss”). This Latin phrase was part of a common evening prayer referencing the prayer of Simeon in the gospel of Luke:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).

Right there in the heat of the stage lights, John Coltrane connected with the experience of a Jewish man thousands of years ago in the Jerusalem temple courtyard. Both men, worlds and ages apart, felt a calling fulfilled.

Like Coltrane, we too are working toward the consummation of a calling.

Our own stories follow the arc of the scriptures, as we were first created in God’s image to work and now feel the effects of the Fall in our vocations even as we experience moments of redemption.

Yet, consummation awaits. As John writes in Revelation 21:3-5a,

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

This world and our work ache with the curse of sin. We may never experience fulfillment to the same extent as Simeon and Coltrane. Yet we can wait with sure hope for the restoration of all things when we will one day say with Coltrane, “Nunc dimittis.”

 

 

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The Sanctification of the Secular

One of my spiritual heroes is AW Tozer. To be sure, an imperfect man (and a very imperfect husband), but a lover of Jesus and far and away closer to Him in experience than I. I commend the following short work from his book, Man: The Dwelling Place of God. It is entitled, “The Santification of the Secular.” Reading this morning, this piece in particular struck me and has tainted the way I engage with the rest of my day. I hope it encourages and challenges you to “sanctify” all you do.

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The New Testament teaches that all things are pure to the pure, and I think we may assume that to the evil man all things are evil. The thing itself is not good or bad; goodness or badness belongs to human personality.
Everything depends upon the state of our interior lives and our heart’s relation to God. The man that walks with God will see and know that for him there is no strict line separating the sacred from the secular. He will acknowledge that there lies around him a world of created things that are innocent in themselves; and he will know, too, that there are a thousand human acts that are neither good nor bad except as they may be done by good or bad men. The busy world around us is filled with work, travel, marrying, rearing our young, burying our dead, buying, selling, sleeping, eating and mixing in common social intercourse with our fellowmen.
These activities and all else that goes to fill up our days are usually separated in our minds from prayer, church attendance and such specific religious acts as are performed by ministers most of the week and by laymen briefly once or twice weekly.
Because the vast majority of men engage in the complicated business of living while trusting wholly in themselves, without reference to God or redemption, we Christians have come to call these common activities “secular” and to attribute to them at least a degree of evil, an evil which is not inherent in them and which they do not necessarily possess.
The Apostle Paul teaches that every simple act of our lives may be sacramental. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” And again, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Some of the great saints, who were great because they took such admonitions seriously and sought to practice them, managed to achieve the sanctification of the secular, or perhaps I should say the abolition of the secular. Their attitude toward life’s common things raised those above the common and imparted to them an aura of divinity. These pure souls broke down the high walls that separated the various areas of their lives from each other and saw all as one; and that one they offered to God as a holy oblation acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Nicholas Herman (Brother Lawrence) made his most common act one of devotion: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer,” he said, “and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
Francis of Assisi accepted the whole creation as his house of worship and called upon everything great and small to join him in adoration of the Godhead. Mother earth, the burning sun, the silver moon, the stars of evening, wind, water, flowers, fruits-all were invited to praise with him their God and King. Hardly a spot was left that could be called secular. The whole world glowed like Moses’ bush with the light of God, and before it the saint kneeled and removed his shoes.
Thomas Traherne, the seventeenth century Christian writer, declared that the children of the King can never enjoy the world aright till every morning they wake up in heaven, see themselves in the Father’s palace, and look upon the skies, the earth and the air as celestial joys, having such a reverent esteem for all as if they were among the angels.
All this is not to ignore the fall of man nor to deny the presence of sin in the world. No believing man can deny the Fall, as no observing man can deny the reality of sin; and as far as I know no responsible thinker has ever held that sin could ever be made other than sinful, whether by prayer or faith or spiritual ministrations. Neither the inspired writers of Holy Scripture nor those illuminated souls who have based their teachings upon those Scriptures have tried to make sin other than exceedingly sinful. It is possible to recognize the sacredness of all things even while admitting that for the time the mystery of sin worketh in the children of disobedience and the whole creation groaneth and travaileth, waiting for the manifestation of the children of God.
Traherne saw the apparent contradiction and explained it: “To contemn the world and to enjoy the world are things contrary to each other. How can we contemn the world, which we are born to enjoy? Truly there are two worlds. One was made by God, and the other by men. That made by God was great and beautiful. Before the Fall it was Adam’s joy and the temple of his glory. That made by men is a Babel of confusions: invented riches, pomps and vanities, brought in by sin. Give all (saith Thomas a Kempis) for all. Leave the one that you may enjoy the other.”
Such souls as these achieved the sanctification of the secular. The church today is suffering from the secularization of the sacred. By accepting the world’s values, thinking its thoughts and adopting its ways we have dimmed the glory that shines overhead. We have not been able to bring earth to the judgment of heaven so we have brought heaven to the judgment of the earth. Pity us, Lord, for we know not what we do!”

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Lenten Lights: Goals for the Season

For many evangelicals, “Lent” is nothing more than a “Catholic thing” or some form of religions self-righteousness. For some, Lent is a serious season of fasting, self-reflection, and repentance. For still others, Lent feels similar to the hyped-up resolutions of New Years: A mix of impossible self-effort that ends in disappointed failure.

The word “lent” (short for “lenten”) comes from the Old English lencten (n.), meaning “springtime, or spring.” It’s also closely connected to the West Germanic word langitinaz (n.), meaning “long-days; or, lengthening of the days.” In short: “Lent” means “More light and life after the cold darkness of winter.” 

I have come to grips with the reality that this season of the calendar year is a dark one for me. The shades of depression and inner-angst seem stronger, more present in these cold winter months. As such, the lenten season is most often a season of lessening…not gaining light.

As an evangelical protestant Christian, I have only recently come to appreciate the wisdom of the lenten season: cultivating the ground of my heart to receive the buried Christ and see Him once again in resurrection. Still, this appreciate for the preparation lent provides meets with the melancholy history of my life (I have faced several near death experiences at the hands of depression, an eating disorder, and suicidality). After much wise counsel and personal contemplation, I have chosen to engage this lenten season in several new and tailored ways fitted to the tendency of my own heart toward introspection and despair. While I affirm the wisdom of fasting, soul-searching, and personal abasement….these [at times] come all to naturally for me. I need less – not more – of me. I need more light…not less.

This lenten season, I have set several goals and personal disciplines geared around two Scriptures. My aim is to look forward to Black Friday and Easter, but in an altogether different way than most. I am calling these goals “Lenten Lights,” and they arise from two Scriptures the Lord has provided as lamps for my feet:

Light 1: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselvesbut for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

Question for Application: How can I live less for myself and more for Jesus in tangible, practical ways over the next 40 days? How might the love of Christ impel me outward (out of myself, and toward others)?

Light 2: Hebrews 13:12-16

“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continue to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” 

Notes:

  •        “…let us go out to Him…” Out of myself, and out to others.
  •        Fasting or personal sacrifice is a normative element for many who practice lentVerse 15-16 lists three sacrifices with which God is pleased:
    • Sacrifices of praise (giving thanks to His name);
    • Doing Good; and
    • Sharing

Application:

  1. Ways I can do goodshare, and praise / thank God over the next 40 days:
  •          Have [new neighbors, unbelievers] over to our home for dinner one evening
  •          Make 2 sack lunches, look for someone (homeless, etc) in need to share it with. Look for opportunity to sit down with them, talk with them, pray with them (Job 31:17) while you eat.
  • 4 times over the next 40 days, pay for someone’s order behind me in a drive through lane. Leave behind an NAOBC card. Use own, “personal” (flex) cash.
  • Memorize 4 new hymns with Easter themes.

2. Ways I can “go out” of myself and “toward others” over the next 40 days:

  • Contact / reach out to / get to know at least four new neighbors. Knock on their door while prayer walking, leave a prayer note, bring cookies and ask how to serve / pray for them.
  • Create a “prayer map” of street, get to know who lives in each home. Memorize the names. Fill out The Art of Neighboring grid (see book of same name).
  • Engage [particular neighbor family; I will leave out their name]

3. 40 Ways / 40 Days to pray for my wife: Pray attentively, intentionally, 10 minutes each     day.

  • [I will absent my personal list; suffice it to say, their is a Scripture for each]

 

These are only a few applications of the above “Lenten Lights,” Scriptures guiding my way out of myself and toward others. Perhaps you are like me, and you tend toward introspection and spiritual darkness during these calendar days. Perhaps you seek ways to look forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the normative “fasts” of lent only nourish your natural, sinful tendencies. I hope this post might be a small encouragement to you. I am a sinful man on a personal sojourn with Jesus. My plan is tailored to my own heart and life, and comes after much stressing and worrying about “how” to prepare for Easter. I have chosen goals which I hope will spark little lights for Christ in my heart…building joy and intentional service of others.

In Isaiah 58, God addresses true and false fasting:

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (verses 6 – 7). 

In other words, the “fast” that pleases God doesn’t focus on oneself to the neglect of one’s neighbor. In small ways, that is my aim this Lenten season: to focus more on my neighbor and less upon myself (I have enough of myself already). In so doing, I pray God’s promised reward…that my “light will break forth like the dawn” (vs. 8) and that my joy in Jesus may increase.

 

May your Christ-kindled light grow brighter and brighter over the coming weeks.

The Thought of God

I have personally benefited by the works of A.W. Tozer, and during a recent reading of his book The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (a collection of poems, hymns, and prayers for devotional reading) I came across this piece by Frederick Faber (1814-1863). Several stanzas in particular deeply stirred my thoughts and incited me to worship. I commend it to you, and will put in bold those phrases that peculiarly stood out to me. Psalm 139 may be an appropriate accompaniment to your reading. May you be led to the same awe and rest which Faber found.

THE THOUGHT OF GOD

By Frederick Faber

The thought of God, the thought of Thee,

Who liest in my heart,

And yet beyond imagined space

Outstretched and present art,

           The thought of Thee, above, below,

           Around me and within,

           Is more to me than health and wealth,

           Or love of kith and kin.

The thought of God is like the tree

Beneath whose shade I lie,

And watch the fleets of snowy clouds

Sail o’er the silent sky.

         ’Tis like that soft invading light,

         Which in all darkness shines,

         The thread that through life’s sombre web

         In golden pattern twines.

It is a thought which ever makes

Life’s sweetest smiles from tears,

And is a daybreak to our hopes,

A sunset to our fears;

       One while it bids the tears to flow,

       Then wipes them from the eyes,

       Most often fills our souls with joy,

       And always sanctifies.

Within a thought so great, our souls

Little and modest grow,

And, by its vastness awed, we learn

The art of walking slow.

      The wild flower on the messy ground

      Scarce bends its pliant form,

      When overhead the autumnal wood

      Is thundering like a storm.

So is it with our humbled souls

Down in the thought of God,

Scarce conscious in their sober peace

Of the wild storms abroad.

     To think of Thee is almost prayer,

     And is outspoken praise;

     And pain can even passive thoughts

     To actual worship raise.

O Lord! I live always in pain,

My life’s sad undersong,

Pain in itself not hard to bear,

But hard to bear so long.

     Little sometimes weighs more than much,

     When it has no relief;

     A joyless life is worse to bear

     Than one of active grief.

And yet, O Lord! a suffering life

One grand ascent may dare;

Penance, not self-imposed, can make

The whole of life a prayer.

     All murmurs lie inside Thy Will

     Which are to Thee addressed;

     To suffer for Thee is our work,

     To think of Thee our rest.

Turn Out the Lights

“Turn out the lights.”

The thought occurred to me in prayer this evening at the conclusion of a day of “fasting” from several things, including media (music, radio, television, social media, etc).

“Sometimes I see better by turning out the lights.”

Beneath the bright city lights I can see the stars, the moon. But if I travel outside the artificial canopy and away from the manufactured glow of streetlights, the heavens blaze in stellar glory. Out from under the city lights, without electric glaze, the sky can be truly seen and marveled at. It is breathtaking.

The Seraphim are still calling to one another their refrain found in Isaiah 6, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth earth is full of His glory” (vs. 3).

Like a fish drifting lazily along the ocean’s current I am immersed in a world wet with the glory of God. And just like that fish, I often have no idea I’m “wet.” Or, as an urban dweller knowing the stars blaze above but unaware of just how bright they are, I pass evening by evening content with my view and drawn to the soft glow of my luminescent little life beneath an artificial canopy. To be certain, I am thankful for electricity, for light…but sometimes – every so often – it is healthy to “turn off the lights” so I can really see “the heavens full of His glory.”

What “lights,” what things occasionally need to be turned off so I can renew my awe of God?

The Sunrise Shall Visit Us

What if the Sun could melt,
descend, dissolve into a human cup?
Diffuse his light and heat throughout
a vessel made of earthy clay?
What would he find, this radiant prince
incarnate, as he walked among us?
Would we feel his heat,
or hear the light imbedded in his words?
Would we know him?

Or, would the humble,
traveling god find creatures
huddling close to meager candlelight,
lightlings burning low amidst impinging dark?
Could we but lift our eyes one moment
from our tiny flames, we might see
HEAVEN.       – C.M.

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Luke 1:78-79, “…because of the tender mercy of our God…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

 

Thanksgiving Warmaking

Fellow Sojourners: Make this day’s feasting an act of war. See how, and why, below.

“Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.””

http://www.storywarren.com/feasting-an-act-of-war/

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A Litergy for Feasting with Friends:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59764bcb725e2575438613ad/t/59f8f462f9619a4b5fe14910/1509487714393/Feasting+With+Friends.pdf

By: Douglas McKelvey, “Every Moment Holy”