Oscar Peterson and the Holy Spirit
Oscar Peterson and the Holy Spirit – Something I do Remember from Theological College
A few years ago, when I was at theological college, the Principal of the college retired. At his leaving party he was invited to share his “Desert Island Discs” with the students and staff, with a testimony weaved in among the musical items.
His final choice was a surprising one, Oscar Person’s “Night Train” which he used to introduce his love of jazz (this was after stuff that mostly resembled Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, Handel’s Messiah and similar).
“Night Train” is not exactly free form or improvised, it has melody structure and orthodox harmonies and musical feel. But the jazz genre was, for him, the nearest musical analogue he could think of to the Holy Spirit. There is form in jazz, an essential character, harmonies (usually!), and it is recognisable as “jazz”, but the melody goes where it likes. It was amenable to improvisation, unpredictable, and hard to replicate, certainly not strictly formulaic.
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
John 3 :8
I’ve always thought about it after that. I’ve seen people (us, Christians, that is) try to explain it, formalise it, theorise it, and even invoke it or summon it in a manner little different to out and out paganism (with the best of intentions, usually). We’ve tried, in a word, to harness it. The Spirit becomes a force that we try and bend to our purposes, with all manner of mixed and dubious motives, some good, some not so.
It is one thing to try to reawaken belief and faith in the Holy Spirit as a living and real entity that is still at work today. I am no cessationist and do not understand those who are. It is quite another to try and bend the Spirit to my will or try and tell Him where to blow, still worse to strive to fulfill a set of formulaic conditions that will suddenly result in the Spirit being present. Like the rest of the Godhead, I feel the Spirit is there to be related to, to seek, to wait on, and be open to. Simple humble faith will do, and an openness to being blessed is all that is required.
We can, I concede, try and identify things that the Spirit cannot (or will not) cohabit with; things like unforgiveness and division, feelings of superiority over others, exclusion and lack of welcome are some, I expect you can think of more. I don’t think we can summon up the Spirit in a supernatural way to suit us, but I do feel we can do things to make His presence less likely. Furthermore I suspect it would be better if we are about our Father’s business or at least not undermining Him, that would help. Better still to be silent and try and hear what Father is actually doing – joining in with Him is a sure way to encounter the Spirit.
But no incantations please, and I for one do not need the usual cheesy musical backdrop (though some like it) ; maybe a bit of gentle jazz instead.