Saturday, February 2, 2013

"How Do You Rehearse the Unknown?"

I hopped into the car today - warming the engine ahead of Bek and the kids for a family trek across town -  and so caught the tail end of an NPR interview with legendary Jazz musician Wayne Shorter. I was captivated, then stopped short, by his words which both truly describe jazz and immediately transcend it.

"The six years I was with Miles, we never talked about music. We never had a rehearsal," Shorter says. "Jazz shouldn't have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that's required to sound like jazz. For me, the word 'jazz' means, 'I dare you.' The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.

"This music, it's dealing with the unexpected," he adds. "No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?"

I found myself reflecting on Shorter's words with respect to three recent and particular points of connection:

1) The bold and inspiring honesty with which Bishop Curry recently described the challenge before the Episcopal Church - to be the Church - in an unknown context, into an unknown future.

2) Duke Divinity School's educational emphasis on practices that form virtue and character - over, say, situational ethics - as corresponding to the jazz musician's preparation for the performance she, by definition, can never rehearse.

3) This splendid piece (below) by Jeremy Begbie, reflecting on improvisation, Christian character, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the people of God. (It is probably not responsible to leave out Sam Wells' work here, too, chiefly 'Improvisation,' which looks at many of these same themes through the lens of theater, and so of status, givens, and over-acceptance.)

May we Christians, after the example of Wayne Shorter, find the freedom to be shaped by the tradition we receive, the courage to go on stage not knowing, the grace to be inspired of the Spirit, and the commitment to succeed and fail, equally and beautifully.

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