Thursday, December 07, 2006

"A Love Supreme" Sadly in Need of Clarification…

When I was a junior at Drake University [in DSM, IA] I started to get more serious about my relationship with Jesus Christ. As a jazz musician I tried to find any mentor I could in the Jazz world that was a Christian to justify my newfound seriousness about God. I realize now that justification for believing in the One Triune God needs no justification by men’s testimony [rather by God in His holy Word], but I was very immature in my faith.

The following is a “psalm” Coltrane wrote. It is a personal conversation between him and who he perceived to be God. It’s almost pantheistic or Baha'i in how general/universal it speaks of God. Somehow, this "psalm" and recording strengthened my resolve to seek Christ in college…I’m not sure why. I’d say that it was a was a gift of grace from the One True God [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...I'm feeling the need to be specific]. If Coltrane was a Christian I wish he wasn’t so vague about whom he believes this God, in his “psalm”, is. Do with it what you will...

I’m thankful for the grace God showed me through this, but in the future I would say that anything that doesn’t mention the Son of God is not necessarily a Christian “psalm”. Nevertheless, the recording of A Love Supreme is a great musical work and it still encourages me to serve and pursue God [I can't say the same for the words of the "psalm" he wrote]. Coltrane musically was a beast. Amazing imagination, sound, technique and more innovative and creative than anyone has been in music since [in my opinion]. Sadly, when it comes to writing, his words and thoughts are in desperate need of clarification. However, his vague expression of who God is in his "psalm" is a good summation of what a lot of folks actually do believe about God today. All the more reason to preach, teach, and pray, because God is a God of revelation of truth...not general realities. Not all paths lead to God [as Coltrane sadly suggests]. Here’s Coltrane’s “psalm”:
“I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord. It all has to do with it. Thank you God. Peace. There is none other. God is, It is so beautiful. Thank you God. God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. Thank you God. In You all things are possible. We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. God is. He always was. He always will be. No matter what…it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions – time – all related…all made from one…all made in one. Blessed be His name. Thought waves – heat waves – all vibrations – all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God…everything does. Thank you God. Have no fear…believe…thank you God.

The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way…it is so wonderful. Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc. They all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful…thank you God. Glory to God…God is so alive. God is. God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace. The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee of Lord. Thank you God. God will wash away all our tears…He always has…He always will. Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday. Let us sing all songs to God To whom all praise is due…praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God. It is all with God. It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord. Blessed is He. We are from one thing…the will of God…thank you God.

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God. Thank you God. He will remake us…He always has and He always will. It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God. God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it…yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION – ELEGANCE – EXALTATION – All from God. Thank you God. Amen. [John Coltrane – December, 1964]” (I put questionable theology in bold/italics)

Cited from the liner notes of A Love Supreme John Coltrane Deluxe Edition. Copyright 2002. The Verve Music Group, USA (314 589 945-2).


Anonymous said...

No. No clarification is needed.

The "psalm" eflects Trane's experience, not yours or mine.

At that time for someone to acknowledge having an experience of God and being public about it, especially in jazz, was something very, very rare.

Coltrane was on a journey that he didn't finish.

Have you listened to "Father, Son and Holy Ghost"?

Noah Braymen said...

Sorry, but I disagree with you. It may indeed reflect experience, but the Christian life is supported by three legs. Doctrine, Experience, and Obedience (see Sinclair Ferguson's the Christian Life). Experience in itself is not adequate in articulating the gospel. So I would say even if it is a Christ centered "experience" that doesn't mean that his articulation of it is a clear communication of the gospel.

Also, does "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" have an attempt at articulating the gospel in writing?

Needless to say I think there is still a need for a clarification of the gospel, and if Coltrane confessed belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for His sins and repented from his sin.

Even if it was rare to admit you are a Christian I would hope it would be clearer.

He may have been a Christian, I'm just saying the psalm he wrote out sadly is in need of a little more clarification. It's a little vague in my opinion.

Sister D said...

Hello,This is a year later,but I was surfing and this came up! Noah if you see this-check out St John Will-I- Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco....we lift up the name of Jesus every week and Coltrane is our Patron Saint.If you grew up Catholic-you understand.I don't want to get into it but it blew me away when I found out people think Catholics worship the saints and Mary and other strange things...I don't belong anymore and there is PLENTY to put down- but I NEVER worshiped anyone but God.Anyway this is the African Orthodox church and please feel free to check us out!Oh! and BTW Archbishop King states during our liturgy that Jesus died for our sins.We lift up coltranes music as an offering to god-as coltrane said,"Sing ALL songs to God" and we have a choir so we DO sing!
All praise to God to whom all praise is due Sister D

Sister D said...

P.S. The new York Times did an article on the church last Sat.Go to NY Times then type in Coltrane in the'll see a photo of Archbishop and the article....

Stephen said...

Coltrane studied in India. Eastern religious teachings influenced his music. Without this broader understanding, I think it's easy for anyone to narrowly interpret his "Psalm" lyrics through soley a Christian lens. But doing so, I feel, is an inaccurate contexualization of his work.

He's also an artist. This was his spiritual journey, not ours, and these are his Divinely inspired words. There is something sacred about that. Does it have to be 100% spelled out for the listener/reader? If so, wouldn't that take away from the effect? And wouldn't that diminish the listener/reader's ability to bring their own understanding to the table? Aren't we all on a different spiritual walk? Coltrane was where he was at, I'm where I'm at, the train conductor is where he's at, the woman at Starbucks is where she's at. And that's okay!

Anonymous said...

i was looking for the words to saint john will-i-am coltrane's psalm; i wanted to meditate on them while listening and offering up prayer myself. after a google search, your site came up, brother braymen. i clicked on it because the title intrigued me. i want to note two things: i've been to the african orthodox church in san francisco that sister d references; it was one of the most meaningful church experiences i've ever had: absolutely transcendent. if anyone is anywhere near san francisco (i was there on vacation from my homebase in illinois) i urge you to go; i believe you will be blessed. my second point is that it seems to me as if there is only one point in the new testament when Jesus tells us how we will be judged: matthew 25:31-46; His words seem to be echoed and validated in revelation. my point is that in the gospel of matthew, the criteria for the righteous to receive eternal life are clearly outlined, and i see no mention of accepting the Son of Man as the only way to heaven; instead, it seems more that those who are chosen for eternal life are those who, consciously or unconsciously, are living as God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. and by that definition, maybe Jesus and gandhi and el-hajj malik el-shabazz and st john will-i-am coltrane are communing and waiting for you and me and sister d. p3ac3 2 u, brother braymen; i'll keep you in my prayers.

G7sus4 said...

With all due respect to you and all Christians:

Please stop trying to understand God with your minds. Please stop using the religious texts as if they were God's user guides.

God is suposed to be unspeakable. Therefore, no amount of words -not even the Bible- can describe It fully. What you have is a DESCRIPTION of God, just like any other religion, or like any other individual, for that matter. God is not yours. I know you would never think this, but i'm telling you, any person that only accepts as valid his own description of God (or the description of his tradition, for that matter) sounds to anyone that doesn't share your beliefs as if you thought you owned God, which would be pretty blasphemous. So people gets offended. That's what causes religious controversy, which has hurt, and is hurting, a lot of people in several ways.

You can't know God with your mind. You can only know God by experiencing It. Which is what this psalm, this song, and the whole record is about.