In search of a ‘A Love Supreme’

Of all the words contained in the English vocabulary, the word “love” is probably the most often used and misused. Think about the ways we speak: I love my Lexus, my Android, my iMac, my iPhone, my black lab, my million dollar job. If put to the test, we might admit that we really do not love those items; We are simply attached to them and they serve the ends for which they were manufactured; they may even make our lives less complex. If we claim that we love them, however, our human values are somewhat askew.

Love is a serious word, it carries many emotional meanings but fundamentally it conveys the sense that we would be willing to give up all else, not for this thing but for this person or persons, these people who have cast their lot with us and are willing to travel the world’s paths with us until death. Love then is serious business.

Some years ago I wrote a column on the deeper meanings of jazz. I went even so far as to say that I have always loved jazz especially in the style of the saxophonist John Coltrane. In the venue of American popular music, no one matched his virtuosity.

Those of us, who followed the career of “Trane” as he was known, will remember a four-part creation of his titled, “A Love Supreme.” I can hear the sounds of that piece of art coming through my headphones even as I write this piece. One day a jazz-lover friend of mine pointed out that “A Love Supreme” was actually based on the words of a biblical psalm to express the author’s deep sadness over his deteriorating state and the careless drinking habits that eventually took his life. I pulled up the words of that music on Google before writing this column and found them shadowed by a certain sadness, deeply beautiful but also full of longing. Here then was a musical genius playing his tenor saxophone, all the while praying to God to lift him out of the worldly entanglements in which he found himself.

So, why should I be writing about John Coltrane and his music on this Third Sunday in Easter? I found a clue to the mystery while reading some words in the Gospel of Saint John — a very personal conversation between Jesus and Saint Peter that took place on the shores of Lake Tiberius. Saint Peter and his friends have just completed a very successful night at their trade as fishermen. Jesus gestures to them to come and have a warm breakfast right there on the sandy beach. He then asks a question that must have left Saint Peter astonished: “Peter, do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks that same question. After the third time, Jesus simply says: “Feed my sheep.” Take care of these sheep that have been following me these many months.

I wonder what Saint Peter actually thought about that question of love. Did he understand what Jesus was talking about? Jesus was really speaking of a love supreme.

If there is a connection, a lesson, in this conversation between Saint Peter, Jesus and John Coltrane’s music, it is this: we are all called to a love supreme, a love not of things but a love for others, those who are given to us for caretaking. If we progress gradually toward that goal, then life may begin to seem like the melodious sounds that flow out of the saxophone of the great John Coltrane. Yes, indeed, A Love Supreme!

Scriptures for April 10

Acts 5: 27-32

Revelation 5: 11-14

John 2: 11-19

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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