One of my favorite musicians is the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. It’s not only his consummate skill as a musician that inspires me, but the way that he finds and expresses God through his music.
One evening, as Coltrane performed one of his most well known pieces—“A Love Supreme”, he ascended to new heights of superb musicianship. Everything came together in a transformative experience for Coltrane, and he communicated this transcendent experience to the audience through his saxophone. As he left the stage, his drummer heard him softly say, “Luke 2:22-29.” Coltrane recognized that he had touched heaven, and that he was doing what he was meant to do in this earthly existence.
It is in these moments of pure connection to God that we find ourselves, and that we attain a sense of fulfillment in life. There can be no intimacy with God and no true happiness unless we are willing to give ourselves completely and honestly to Him. This requires us to let go, which few are willing to do. I’ve been playing bass guitar for more than 40 years, and know that it takes more than simply honing my skills and developing my own unique sound to be a great jazz musician. The next step is to be able to let go—to let go of all thought patterns and preconceived ideas as to what notes are safe and fit into the chord progressions being laid down by the rhythm section. This letting go allows us to reach the innermost place of our being and express that experience through our music or other creative endeavor.
This is much the same as when practicing inner prayer. Once you have the skills and guidance, you must let go to connect with the presence of God within. Very often this experience is more easily found in the creative self through music and art rather than the intellectual thinking self. I often say that music and art allow us to lose ourselves and then find ourselves all at the same time. Explorations of our inner spiritual experiences, through music or art, expose us to a place otherwise hidden, a place where we discover “spiritual vitality,” a place that lifts us to a level of being we otherwise did not know we could achieve, or that even existed.
Music and art allow us to internalize going to the depths of our being. There we gain a sense of true freedom, a dwelling place for the spiritual journey. Coltrane was unique in that he was able to see a greater purpose through his musical experience. He said, “My goal is to live the truly religious life, and express it in my music. If you live it, when you play there’s no problem because the music is part of the whole thing. To be a musician is really something. It goes very, very deep. My music is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being.”
In my opinion, John Coltrane allowed himself to explore the vastness of spirit through music like no other being. We are fortunate that many musicians and artists explore their innermost being through their art and then share that experience with us so that we, too, may experience that deep connection. With a generosity of spirit, Coltrane said, “When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang ups…I want to speak to their souls.”