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Improvisation – March 31, 2013

Improvise on us, O God; let your fingers stray across our lives,
for we are your keys and the music at your fingertips.

Improvise on us, O God; and when we think you have lost your way with us, we will remember to keep listening out beyond where our expectations want to end.

Improvise on us, O God; let your fingers stray and risk our lives upon a pilgrimage we would never take alone…without you…let your fingers stray on us, O God, and we will be made whole.  Amen.

Consider this: behind Western Christianity lies the assumption of a well ordered universe that has been created from a rational mind – God, the mind of pure reason.

What if God…
What if God improvises?

What if God is a jazz musician?

What if God plays boogie-woogie on the universe?

What if God loves the blues and doesn’t know what lyrics are coming up next?

What if, since we are not Presbyterians after all, we thought of God as 
an improvisationalist instead of an engineer or cosmic accountant?

It wouldn’t be as if there were no predictability in God’s Creation,
 because even an improvisationalist has patterns, historic references,
 favorite chords, preferred rhythms, and styles of syncopation.  If we looked at the history of Israel as jazz instead of as a novel, we could easily imagine God as an improvisationalist, letting her fingers stray upon the keys of history…searching for the rhythm that works best with this particular people and those ones over there…and then stretching for the glide that brings it all home.

I think we’re onto something here: God as an improvisational jazz
 musician playing upon us as the keys of human history 
Now this idea will be hard on those of us reared in a British tradition 
where the phrase “everything in good order” was elevated to the level of moral standard.  And for those of us who are simply compulsive 
about wanting to keep our world neat, it might be disconcerting. And those of us who insist upon a high degree of control over our own little universe – and as much control over everyone else’s universe as we can get – it might even come as bad news. (Which is to say, most of us, since we all have a thirst for order that we equate with predictability, consistency, and control). But what if…

What if God is an improvisationalist rather than a German engineer 
lusting for precision, or a Chinese Confucian insisting upon exactitude?
 What if God is an improvisationalist who knows how to make music 
from our otherwise lifeless, dormant potential?  That would change everything, wouldn’t it? Then we would know up front that there is not one version, one interpretation or one meaning, but an endless array.  
Think of it! We could listen to the empty tomb story and know we don’t have to ask, “did that really happen” in order to hear the music in it.
 We could listen to the narrator tell about how the women ran away because they were terrified, and told no one, and instead of trying to come up with reasons the story ends that way, or otherwise make sense of it, we could just hear the music in it instead.

But why stop there?  We could listen to our own life and hear improvisational music in it, instead of supposing that we are playing our own little tune all the time.  We could listen to God in our own lives without requiring that God’s activity and grace conform to our notions of truth, fairness and good order, and so begin to hear new music.  Imagine that, hearing new music in our old lives?  

 So this Easter I want to get up the nerve to shout, “Play God!” and then listen.  Then I want to take an even bigger risk, and engage in a little improvisation myself. 


“Improvise”                             by Jared Carter
To improvise, first let your fingers stray
across the keys like travelers in the snow:
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

You’ll find no staff to lean on, none to play
among the drifts the wind has left in rows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray

beyond the path.  Give up the need to say
which way is right, or what the dark stones show;
they will show nothing till you lose your way.

And what the stillness keeps, do not betray;
the one who listens is the one who knows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray;

out over the emptiness is where things weigh
the least.  Go there, believe a current flows
each time you start: expect to lose your way.

Risk is the pilgrimage that cannot stay;
the keys grow silent in their smooth repose.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray.
Each time you start, expect to lose your way.


Rev. Cam Miller,
St. Mark’s, Newport

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