|Blind Lemon Jefferson|
Years ago, when I was a teenager I fell in love with the blues. Not a heavy leap for any adolescent boy. Hormone are surging emotions to the brink of control and beyond. We are caught up in not yet being men while knowing we are no longer boys. Our bodies, hearts and minds are embroiled in conflict and anxiety. We haven't suffered much yet, if God has been in any way kind to us; and yet, somewhere down deep we know that sorrow, pain, loss and grief are preparing to walk with us for the balance of our adult lives.
The sun may shine, warm breezes may blow...but there will always be clouds, and winter is as inevitable as spring. I was a happy kid, for the most part. But, when I was feeling bad the balm of putting on a record of Robert Johnson's, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy or Blind Willie McTell would serve both to name the tensions in me and work to guide toward expressing them. The blues was a portal to understanding the arc of our common journey through pain and grief as children of a living God. Each musical phrase was begun in tension and resolved in release, often (and simply) in three chords and four bars.
Granted, I was a white kid in the late-middle 20th Century. I had no idea just where the blues came from as a musical drama, but from the liner notes on the album covers and what I could read from books or glean from the guys down at the guitar store. I couldn't have begun to understand or sympathize with the depth of suffering, or the desire for release, that these remarkable artists found in their music as they played under and around in the shadows of the dehumanizing oppression of slavery and racial repression in the South of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, I think there is no small access given to all of us in the expression of the lamentations of the blues as a musical drama that grants us a portal into being able to articulate human sorrow as both a panacea and purgative for the pain, worry, anxiety and even despair that is a part of life in this world.
That is perhaps why I don't lament over the Lamentations. I can experience sympathies with the poet/prophets songs of pain and loss, because I have known pain and loss in my own way. I can sing the blues over the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, because I have known what it means to experience the shattering and breaking of faith in the face of overwhelming conflict. I can respect and honor the brokenness of the ones who lament and grieve, because those sorrowful songs name and give voice to the pain I have felt in life.
As good as it is, and it is good to be united in celebration as the people of God it is also paramount that we be able to suffer together, to know loss and grief and pain together as the people of God. It is the other voice that sings in the shadows of the brilliant illuminations that come with celebrating Incarnation...that "God with us" is not only for our salvation and joy, but also as a balm and consolation that no matter the depths of our sorrow and grief...no matter the intensity of the blues we express, there is somewhere down the line the promise of relief and release.