Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 104) transports me to the summer of 1984, a transition time between my graduation from college and my entrance into seminary. While my vocation into the gospel ministry was slowly becoming clearer, I maintained my avocation as a jazz guitarist, continuing to play in small combos in some of the restaurants and pubs around Asheville. So when I read the news that Howard Hanger, one of Asheville’s jazz icons as long-time leader of the Howard Hanger Jazz Fantasy, was discerning a new calling himself and was inviting people to explore a new community of faith in the basement of Central United Methodist, I was more than intrigued. I found myself among the 75 or so folks who attended the inaugural Sunday night celebrations of what would soon become the Jubilee! Community. It was my first exposure to jazz in a sacred setting, and if memory serves me correct, it was a jamming worship band, including my old rythm section partner and future Grammy winner Eliot Wadopian on bass. It was also my first exposure to sacred dance, and to the theology of creation spirituality. Matthew Fox’s pioneering work in this field would be part of the foundation for Jubilee’s theological identity. I bought all his books and took them with me to seminary, where they served as a good balance to John Macquarrie and all those German theologians. The idea of celebrating God in all of the divine glory revealed in nature, in the sunshine and wind, in the darkness of winter, in the fertile soil, was all new to me, and was incredibly liberating. It didn’t cause me to leave my Baptist roots, but I believe it made me a much better Baptist for having read it and for having experienced the worship of a community like Jubilee.
Part of my Baptist roots included a solid upbringing in Bible study, with years of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and Sword Drills and memory verses and daily Bible readings under my belt. These daily Bible readings for many years had included a reading from the Psalms, so when I think about today’s passage I wonder why the theology of creation spirituality seemed so new to me. It was there all along. Matthew Fox couldn’t have written anything more celebratory of God’s presence in creation than the Psalmist here. It’s startling, from the point of view of the traditional Germanic theologies that try to put God in a conceptual and credal box, to see how earthy the spirituality of the Psalmist really was. Every time we wiggle our toes in a stream or feel the wind on our face or put our hand in the humus, we are touching God’s presence, the Psalmist would have us believe. There is God, wrapped up in a garment of sunlight, riding the clouds and surfing the wind. In place of the distant God of the theists, the Maker who wound up creation like a clock and let it tick away, the Psalmist’s God is active and present in every aspect of creation, flowing along with the waters to quench the thirst of braying donkeys, causing the grass to grow for when the cows moo for some munchies. God is the vintage vintner, fermenting the grapes and pouring the wine to gladden our hearts. Animal lovers can delight in the imagery of God hand-feeding all the furry creatures. God’s spirit renews the face of the ground, and God’s touch makes fire pour from volcanic mountains. Another old jazz artist, Louis Armstrong, would love Eugene Peterson’s translation of a verse in this psalm – What a wildly wonderful world, God!
Kim and I were members of Jubilee several years ago, when she was on staff as children’s minister and I was part of the World Beat Band. We went back a couple of weeks ago and played some music, and the celebration truly was a wildly wonderful experience of worship. I don’t know if it was for our benefit or not, but Howard included an obligatory Baptist joke, and then launched into a challenge for the Jubilants to pay attention to what the Bible really says. He wanted to prepare them for the holiday season, when they might be at a party and find themselves in a conversation with a really serious (and stone sober) Baptist who would likely have some doctrinal reservations about creation spirituality. His sermon rocked, and as usual, it made me a better Baptist. I hope that along the way the Baptist emphasis on biblical truth has made him a better Jubilant as well.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.