I’ve never managed to keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a few weeks. I know I’m not alone. But this Advent, I discovered some new insights into the idea of resolve that provoked me to further consideration. This article is written to help me make more sense of them. I hope you benefit from listening in.
My Advent spiritual exercise this year was to read Jamie Howison’s God’s Mind in That Music (Cascade Books, 2012).
Howison is an Anglican priest in Winnipeg whose faith and life are profoundly shaped by his experience of jazz. Though we don’t know each other (yet!), I consider him a soul friend. The book explores how the music of John Coltrane voiced his religious faith, as interpreted by Howison. It’s a provocative read. And here’s the Facebook page for the book so you can follow his ongoing reflections on jazz and theology.
The late 1950s and the early 1960s saw Coltrane go through a transformative period in his life. He kicked, for the most part, addictions to heroin and alcohol. He moved into and out of a wide variety of bands. His relationships with women were multiple and mixed up. As Coltrane himself describes the period, it was filled with “irresolution.”
Howison suggests that Coltrane was reticent to talk about the inner dynamics of this transformation, perhaps because he did not have the words. He voiced it much more clearly in his music. And through his music, he eventually found some words that could hint at the profound gratitude he had for what God had done in him and for him. He had a clearer vision of what he could be, in God’s presence and with God’s support. He never realized that vision perfectly, but the possibility of that way of being kept drawing him forward. The music that expresses this most powerfully is on his album A Love Supreme and the words that do the same are in the liner notes for that album. I agree with Howison’s claim that it is “one of the most unapologetically theological jazz recordings ever made.”
As I listened again to this masterwork, along with reading Howison’s reflections on it, I thought of 3 Rs – reason, resilience, and results – that seemed to me essential for a resolute life. These are all related to a way of being in and for the world that makes a beneficial contribution to the wellbeing of all creation.
At the core of the resolve that I have in mind is the energy of love that lies beneath any of our particular actions. In the Judeo-Christian traditions, there is a core affirmation that such love flows from God and is steadfast and everlasting, not subject to the distresses of time or circumstance. It is a reliable source of healing and hope that can be drawn on at any time by any one.
Here are some key questions to consider as you compose and improvise around your being with a clear resolve this coming year.
What is your reason for being?
This has to do with a sense of purpose in your life. In cultures that are being undermined by self-reliance and self-indulgence, composing a purpose is, quite literally, life-saving. It’s a bit like musicians composing a melody line. Here’s an example. My reason for being is ‘Energizing Your VIBE.’ VIBE stands for Values (discover them), Intentions (choose them), Barriers (transcend them), and Execution (contribute them). This purpose is my melody line for 2017. It is the reason that shapes my resolve to provoke flourishing.
How can you build resilience in being?
Resolving to live a purposeful life is not easy. Once you have composed your sense of purpose and have begun to improvise around it, you will find all sorts of things that get in the way. Building resilience in your resolve is crucial. The American Psychological Association has developed an exceptional guide to resilience. I’d summarize their 10 ways to build resilience in 3 words – connections, positivity, and purpose. I’d suggest the you develop a few simple rituals to draw your attention back to your resolve in the midst of distress and disorientation. For example, I take a couple of deep breaths during which I silently sing the words ‘grace and gratitude.’
What are the results of your being?
At Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, where I serve as minister, we started a tradition last Thanksgiving of using ‘Thanks Jars’ as a spiritual discipline. On a regular basis, each person puts a note into a small Mason Jar about a result that makes us thankful. From time to time, we review the notes, share some with the rest of the congregation, and continue the discipline. It’s a simple way of tracking the results of your resolve.
Ask all three questions together at least once a week, perhaps on a Sunday night as you prepare for bed. Give them some consideration as you fall asleep. That will enable all 3 Rs - your reason for being, your resilience in being, and your results of being - to work their wonders while you are most fully at rest. Note any insights that arise as you wake up on Monday morning and begin the new week. Then experiment with actions that align with these insights.
And know that you can draw on the steadfast and everlasting love of God to guide and strengthen your resolve throughout 2017.
Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership. You can find out more at www.jazzthink.com and www.brentwoodpc.ca.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, The Spiritual View, HERE