Recently, I presented this piece at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, and then at South Broadway Christian Church later that same week, also in Denver. I’ve been asked by several in attendance to post what I offered, so here’s the text below. The talk was accompanied by a slide show that depicted a combination of Hubble telescope images, electron microscope images and artists/musicians. I considered making that into a video, with me narrating the text underneath, but it takes a lot of time. So let me know if this is something you have particular interest in and I’ll try to make it happen.
In the Beginning
Art Saves lives because art is at the source of all life.
It is the taproot to the dormant breath of God,
Dwelling within all of creation, waiting for invitation.
What we think of today as art is not art.
It has become another product to be consumed,
Rather than a phenomenon to be engaged,
And experience to we have to submit ourselves to,
Allow ourselves to be changed,
And in doing so, catch a fleeting glimpse of
The author, the wellspring,
The essence of what it means to be a soul draped in skin and bone.
In the beginning was not the word.
All due respect to John, but words are the fruit,
Whose roots are found in breath,
The summoning of potential, gathering of energy
Into a single place, preparing, waiting for birth
Into something new, something beautiful, never experienced before.
But before the ruah, the divine breath, the inspired authority
That put it all into motion, there was a longing,
A space, longing to be filled.
The tension of stasis, longing for resolution in holy chaos,
In the beginning, was a thought: “what if…”
This thought was followed by a surrender to the ruah,
The breath that cannot be contained, but rather,
Once released into the universe,
Has its way with us and with all of creation,
It is the necessary tension between readiness and vulnerability,
Between preparation and probability.
We were birthed into improvisation.
Who knew that the source of all the creation was jazz?
No one had to know; it is an insistence that demands presence in this space
A longing whose culmination calls all matter into chaotic harmony
A perfect love that demands a response, a verse, seeking its chorus.
Turns out, the creationists and the scientists both got it wrong.
This reality isn’t billions of years old,
Nor is it 6,000 years old.
This universal nexus came into being
Just 87 short years ago.
In 1926 the cosmos concocted
A cacophonic spark.
When John William Coltrane made his mark,
The air was dark and heavy
To the point of choking.
America’s broken prism of idealism
Shone in racial schisms and tokenism.
The depression loomed just out of reach,
Would-be slaves, though free from chains,
Were not free in speech.
The black man could teach his children,
Just not too much, and as long
As they didn’t touch elbows with those
Whose clothes were newer, skin was whiter,
Who had a sense of veracity, or at least the capacity
To hold fast to these ideals that made real
The great divide.
In ’51, off of a stint with Dizzy
Trane’s veins trembled with the roar
Of the Dragon. For six years,
Heroin was his God.
Trane worshipped at the feet of Bird,
Charlie Parker, the junk-headed, smack-fueled
Bebop savant who was so good,
Even Trane wanted to be like him,
Play like him, shoot up like him, even die like him
If it meant touching the transcendence
Morbidly married to Bird’s dependence.
By ’64, we were knee-deep in war.
While some protested, others, bare-chested,
Pressed at the time-tested tenets of patriotism,
Creating another schism of American idealism.
Then Trane soothed the pain of ingrained,
Entrenched thought, his pitch drenched
“Jetted in on a ray of radiance like the sun
to shine on those in our midst and
the still unborn in this hour of our great need*.”
He poured down like a cleansing rain,
Healing pain, washing stains of red
From seas of black and white.
While King had a dream of freedom at last
Malcolm said justice would come to pass
When the chickens came home to roost.
But Trane began to believe the power lay
Not in either way, but instead in music’s fray.
He believed melody could heal the sick.
He believed arpeggios could summon the rains.
He believed that, in his tonal dissonance
Was a cosmic constant, a Divine being,
A key to nature’s geometry
Reflecting life’s asymmetry,
Like the nectar from a healing tree,
Music was life in a dying world.
A composition of the spheres,
Transcending the style of his years
Transcribing the elliptical, orbital patterns
That gathered order into all matter,
Transposing the audible life stream
From dream to daylight,
From fantasy to true sight
His second heaven was life-bread, leavened
By perfect consciousness
Of a Love Supreme.
A love that doesn’t actually even exist.
It can’t be bought, commoditized, packaged,
Contained within sanctuary walls or legislated by old white guys
Who drive Mercedes with tinted windows and rest in the
Blessed assurance of fat government pensions.
As Jack Caputo, the granddaddy of theological improv, puts it:
The thing we seek does not exist.
It is the insistence that calls all else into existence,
The longing that yields creation itself,
The call that awaits a response.
And as co-creators, co-conspirators in this unfinished symphony,
We summon that same ruah, the divine breath
That gathers together our hope, our idealism, our longing,
And casts it out into the nothing.
And Trane said, “This is good.”
*Lines borrowed from a poem by Leon Thomas.