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Lent #6: “The 23rd Psalm”

Looking back through the past five entries it’s “interesting” to see the music that has come into my meditation life—“Spiritual” (Trane), “Prayer” (Jarrett), “Aung San Suu Kui” (Shorter), “Alabama” (Trane again), and “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. And now for something completely different: The 23rd Psalm by Bobby McFerrin.

Bobby is one of the great vocal improvisers of all time. His body and voice are his instrument, and his imaginative mind is the creative force that propels his artistry. I had the opportunity (blessing, really) to perform with Bobby once and it is a musically spiritual event I shall never forget.

His vocal improvisation on Psalm 23 is effortless, and his switching of pronouns to the feminine is a theological work of art. Bobby grew up in the Episcopal Church and was deeply influenced by the music, particularly the chants. He dedicates this arrangement to his Mother. In an interview with Krista Tippett on her show, On Being, he says that he wrote the song in a the feminine because he “wanted to remind people that for a lot of people . . . when they think of their fathers, some of them might not have had great relationships with their dads. And . . . some of them don’t have great relationships with their mothers. But sometimes we forget the feminine element in religious service. And I just wanted to bring that out.”

And the feminine imagery of God brings beauty and depth not only to music but to a theological understanding of who we are as children of God. If you haven’t heard it there are many, many versions on You Tube—his original version and countless performances by choral groups and soloists. Take a few moment and listen to anyone of these performances and be filled with a genuine sense of grace and peace. It’s a perfect song for this Lenten season.

Lenten Jazz Blessings.

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