Today, we celebrate Sensuous Sunday. It has been our tradition to celebrate our physical, bodily senses just before Valentine’s Day in February. According to the lunar calendar, the “Lunar Spring,” what we call “Ip-choon,” in
However, we are still in the middle of harsh winter. At this time of year usually everything looks dark, cold, and gloomy like this weekend. Our bodies are wrapped with thick coats, scarves, hats and winter boots. Our senses are blocked due to the cold weather. As a result, we hardly sense anything except for the coldness of the air and the thickness of our clothes. So, it makes sense to set aside a Sunday in the middle of winter to celebrate our various senses – hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling – altogether, giving thanks to God.
Before sharing my reflection, I would like to invite Gerald to come forward and talk about why he is glad to be alive, what makes him tick, keeping in mind our five senses.
God Talk with Jazz
Matthew 6: 25–34
God of Melody, Harmony and Dissonance! May our song reflect the shape of our living. May our song glorify you and empower our brothers and sisters in faith. Amen.
Last weekend, I went to Emmanuel College to take a two-day Continuing Education course, titled “The Song of God in Our Midst: Music and Spirituality in the Key of Jazz.” I was drawn to this course for two reasons. First, it was offered by the systematic theology professor, Tom Reynolds. He came to Emmanuel five years ago after my graduation and people speak so highly of him, I was looking for an opportunity to study with him. Secondly, I was curious about the title. I am not musical and absolutely ignorant of Jazz. God talk with Jazz? What is that? My curiosity took me to the course.
I did not know Tom was a professional Jazz pianist. Friday night, he played the piano along with a double bassist and a drummer. During the two-hour performance, he took several short breaks to explain the basic concepts of Jazz, conversing with the other two performers. Their talks helped me understand the key features of Jazz. Among those, that of improvisation intrigued me most. The Jazz musicians that night had music notes, but used them as basic structures to manoeuvre, not something to follow precisely as in classical music. So, they had freedom to improvise on the original tunes anytime.
According to Tom, freedom, or liberation, is one of the characteristics of Jazz. However, it does not mean that Jazz players are free to play anything on a whim. They have to play together in harmony as a team. It means that they have to communicate well with each other during their performance. For instance, last Friday night, the three shared taking the lead and the other two accompanied them. While playing their own instruments, they used a variety of body movement like nodding or making eye contact or finger pointing, in order to know who was leading now and who was next.
George, the double bassist, described Jazz as a higher form of communication. To be a good communicator while playing, he said that he divided his mind into four parts; three equal 30% of his attention went to each player including himself and the rest of 10% went to what was next. It was fascinating to hear about this kind of communication. They engaged in such active and lively interaction with each other through their bodily senses. They seemed to be playing such sweet music effortlessly, yet they did it by being intensely attentive to their senses.
Having said that, Jazz players must have confidence in their senses; they have to read and follow their own
deep feelings and emotional reactions in order to do the improvisation. They must not be afraid to make mistakes. They must be willing to be vulnerable. They must not worry about what will happen next. Further, as they play according to their partners’ improvisations, they must place confidence in their partners’ senses. Not knowing where their music will go, they have to work together as a team in good faith. In addition, their feelings and emotions will be affected by the reactions of the audience. It means the audience also plays a role in the Jazz musicians’ improvisation: together with the audience they create lively Jazz music through the deliberate interaction of their senses.
Today, according to the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.” Jesus is not forbidding followers from securing what is essential to wellbeing. Jesus is speaking about not allowing worry or anxiety to monopolize one’s energy and focus – “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (v. 27). Jesus first calls the disciples to look at the birds that are flying over them by the
And in case the disciples don’t get it, Jesus moves on to the next example; people worried about what they should wear. Jesus points to the flowers that cover the hillside, remarking that they are more glorious than what King Solomon would have worn. The power-hungry Solomon did not trust God, but rather his own glory. Jesus then makes the final point. Life is not about striving for material goods, but rather working for God’s reign of justice and peace. It is about seeing the world as God intends it to be and then living that way. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
As I said earlier, Jazz performance is highly visceral; too much thinking causes too much worry and anxiety. Jazz musicians try not to think as much as constantly feel, from
deep inside, listening to the ever-flowing rhythms and melodies and creating beautiful harmony. Good Jazz musicians worry less about mistakes or what is next when they improvise, but trust what they sense from deep inside so as to be ready to respond to their partners’ improvisation with confidence. Perhaps they have learned how to live out what today’s passage from Matthew teaches us: “Seize the moment! Smell the roses!” Since last weekend, while driving, I have enjoyed the Jazz from Tom’s CD. Do you think I have become hooked on Jazz?
Traditionally in the Christian West, our bodily senses have been regarded as inferior to our spirituality or relegated to stumbling blocks to our spiritual pursuit. As a result, we have rarely enjoyed opportunities to give thanks to God for the wonder and mystery of our bodies. Let us take this opportunity today to appreciate and give thanks for our bodily senses as gifts of God. Let us continue to celebrate our senses sharing a variety of bread and wine at the common table provided by Jesus, the Christ. Amen.