Do not build towers without a foundation, for our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day.

—St. Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle.

Supreme Thanks

Thank you, Jenzia Burgos, for the incredible resource of a Black Music History Library. Today, I read Greg Tate’s review of Ashley Kahn’s book A Love Supreme. The article includes this block quote describing how Coltrane’s album begins:

Elvin Jones leans to his left and, striking a Chinese gong, opens the album with an ethereal, exotic splash. “It’s the signal of something different,” remarks [Alice and John Coltrane’s son] Ravi. “You don’t hear that instrument anywhere else on any other John Coltrane recording.” … In one stroke, the hammered metal’s distinctive shimmer clears the air of standard jazz practice… . Coltrane enters with a brief fanfare. Whether blown from minarets or at military barracks, as a call to prayer or to arms, it’s a time-honored device with a timeless function …

Now I’m gonna go listen to “Psalm” and read Coltrane’s liner-notes poem. Salud!

Love and Mercy

Nick Cave is batting 1,000 on his last few Red Hand Files newsletters. I shared a highlight from the last issue regarding writers block. This week, he connected the principle and practice of "mercy" to the problem with cancel culture. He wrote:

Mercy allows us the ability to engage openly in free-ranging conversation — an expansion of collective discovery toward a common good. If mercy is our guide we have a safety net of mutual consideration, and we can, to quote Oscar Wilde, “play gracefully with ideas.”

...It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humorless.

The picture of a society without mercy reminds me of something I heard about mercy defined linguistically. The Hebrew word associates the experience with pregnancy. Mercy is like being pregnant. "Bearing with" the other in mercy requires genuine selflessness.

Ethicist and Church Historian, Walter Brueggemann makes the case that the most fundamental, human enemy of mercy is "the pattern of self-preoccupation." Krista Tippett interviewed Brueggemann some time ago on the podcast "On Being" and asked him, as Nick Cave was asked, to define "Mercy." Here's Brueggemann:

You may know that the Hebrew word for — Phyllis Trible has taught us that the Hebrew word for mercy is the word for womb with different vowel points. So mercy, she’s suggested, is womb-like mother love. It is the capacity of a mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of the child. And mutatis mutandis (translation: "things being changed that have to be changed"), then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for the sake of the neighborhood.

Now, none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other, rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being. It is this kind of generous connectedness to others. And then I think our task is to see how that translates into policy. Now we’re having huge political storms about whether our policies ought to reflect that kind of generosity to people other than us and people who are not as well-off as we are, or whatever.

I think that a community or a society, finally, cannot live without the quality of mercy. The problem for us is, what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice that the others are out there and that we are attached to them?

"Others are out there" means that mercy requires love as defined by Iris Murdoch. She says, "Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than yourself is real." Love initiates and invites mercy

Jazz Gratitude

Here are a few of John Coltrane’s words from “A Love Supreme” liner notes:

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

Like a good jazz fan (in the mode of a good jazz musician), Tim Keller stole and used the same for the epigraph to his book. The “THANK YOU GOD” in all caps has, lately, been reminding me that the best attitude is gratitude.

The Miracle of God's Love

When we come to a point in our lives where we are completely ashamed of ourselves and before God; when we believe that God especially must now be ashamed of us, and when we feel as far away from God as ever in all our lives—that is the moment in which God is closer to us than ever, wanting to break into our lives, wanting us to feel the presence of the holy and to grasp the miracle of God's love, God's nearness and grace.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer