This Lent I was pondering the great jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane. A man of incredible spiritual sensitivity and vision. He played during the ‘50s and ‘60s, and his album, A Love Supreme, is considered a masterpiece, both musically and spiritually. The article on this album in Wikipedia is worth reading:
If one’s view of “spiritual music” is restricted to “church stuff,” good or bad, Gregorian/Russian Orthodox chant, or sentimental hymns, well, then one will miss the beauty and power of what unfolds in this work of art. Merton is known to have listened to Coltrane on a phonograph in his hermitage; he was so moved by it. Granted, Coltrane’s kind of music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is beneficial in deep ways to encounter his kind of vision.
Look at this quote:
“God breathes through us so completely, so gently we hardly feel it, yet, it is our everything.”
For Coltrane God is the Great Saxophonist, and our lives, our very existence, is His Music. Lent is a time for beginning to hear THAT music, and perhaps with the Sufi dervishes, to enter the Dance of all Being.
Not many jazz musicians spoke like this:
“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am – my faith, my knowledge, my being… When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups.”
Then, there is this little-known cogent expression that is overflowing with common sense:
“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”
This applies not only to old classical music but even more so to the classics of spirituality and yes even the old sacred texts of all the great traditions. Speaking of which, it is very interesting that Coltrane was not a full member of any of the great traditions. Usually this is not recommended for anybody; it is just too easy to get “lost” and end up in a weird spiritual fog. But Coltrane was one of those rare people who had a profound spiritual compass to keep him on track. He was one of those people exemplified by Rumi’s famous quote:
“The lovers of God have no religion but God alone.”
Another companion this Lent, who brings out another side to Lent, is Chris Hedges. Ok, I read him all year round, and yes, reading him makes it feel like Lent 24/7, 12 months of the year. He is not easy, uplifting reading. And he seems to be a “one-rant man,” not much variety in what he says; sometimes it gets a bit numbing. But most Importantly, Hedges is our version of Jeremiah, the great and difficult Old Testament prophet. At times he seems to overstate his case; at other times he seems to miss something important; but there is also an unavoidable truth in his provocative vision. The quote below is from a speech he gave recently to a group in Washington, DC.:
|“Idolatry is the primal sin from which all other sins derive. Idols tempt us to become God. They demand the sacrifice of others in the mad quest for wealth, fame or power. But the idol always ends by requiring self-sacrifice, leaving us to perish on the blood-soaked altars we erected for others.
For empires are not murdered, they commit suicide at the feet of the idols that entrance them.
We are here today to denounce the unelected, unaccountable high priests of Empire, who funnel the bodies of millions of victims, along with trillions of our national wealth, into the bowels of our own version of the Canaanite idol, Moloch.
The political class, the media, the entertainment industry, the financiers and even religious institutions bay like wolves for the blood of Muslims or Russians or Chinese, or whoever the idol has demonized as unworthy of life. There were no rational objectives in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. There are none in Ukraine. Permanent war and industrial slaughter are their own justification. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman earn billions of dollars in profits. The vast expenditures demanded by the Pentagon are sacrosanct. The cabal of warmongering pundits, diplomats and technocrats, who smugly dodge responsibility for the array of military disasters they orchestrate, are protean, shifting adroitly with the political tides, moving from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and then back again, mutating from cold warriors to neocons to liberal interventionists.
These pimps of war do not see the corpses of their victims. I did. Including children. Every lifeless body I stood over as a reporter in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Bosnia, or Kosovo, month after month, year after year, exposed their moral bankruptcy, intellectual dishonesty, sick bloodlust and delusional fantasies. They are puppets of the Pentagon, a state within a state, and the weapons manufacturers who lavishly fund their think tanks. Like some mutant strain of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, they cannot be vanquished. It does not matter how wrong they are, how absurd their theories of global dominance, how many times they lie or denigrate other cultures and societies as uncivilized or how many they condemn to death. They are immovable props, parasites vomited up in the dying days of all empires, ready to sell us the next virtuous war against whoever they have decided is the new Hitler. The map changes. The game is the same.”
Hedges has a very intense Biblical vision, and here he reminded me of an absolutely critical theme in the Bible: idolatry. This has always meant and always will mean one key thing: the falsification of that Ultimate Absolute Reality which we call God. The “idols” of primitive cultures are merely the fingerprints of this illusory dynamic which is very much with us in the modern world. I think I will leave it at that….this is a “monster” topic for pondering. Trust me, it is not a simple, easy to grasp thing!
And to conclude this Lenten reflection here are two samples of spoof ads from my favorite magazine: Adbusters.