In December, 1964 John Coltrane recorded what would be widely viewed as his seminal work. The album which had been all recorded in one session at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ was released in February of 1965 under the title “ A Love Supreme.”
If the project wasn’t his seminal work, it is at the very least my favorite from the Coltrane catalog. His performances are visceral. The quartet is persistent against the waxing and waning of Coltrane’s improvisational gusto. In a lot of ways the project is a painting of the spiritual awakening of John Coltrane. The music and the subtext that unfolds in it is illuminating. Coltrane’s love music on this project is not comprised of sappy love songs. His aural painting is of a love that is much higher.
In the West, our concepts of love are a bit convoluted. Love is a word we use across so many spaces of our lives that sometimes it seems impossible that we can ever really know what love is at all. We love chocolate. We love our favorite musicians. We love to win. We love our girlfriends and boyfriends. We love our husbands and wives. We love God. We love… everything.
Listening to John Coltrane’s recording yesterday, I found myself completely taken aback by the concepts of love that emerge from his music. His concept of love is not always resolved. There is dissonance. There is incongruency. The spiritual connotations are inescapable. There are moments in this music that are down right sermonic. This ain’t puppy love that John Coltrane is playing about. This is tough love. It's durable. It is strong and passionate. It's everlasting. This is God’s love that he is extolling!
As I listened this weekend, I couldn’t help but run to the word of God to relish the underpinnings of the music I was enjoying. I felt pulled toward these words that Jesus gave:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. - John 15:12-13
This is Jesus’ definition of supreme love. Yes his teaching was compelling but his demonstration of his definition serves as the foremost example of what love is. His words and his actions were scions of what love really is.
I often marvel at the divine model of salvation as outlined in the scriptures. In effect and in fact, God humbled himself to be subjected to the ridicule and abuse of his own creation in order that it (his creation) might be saved. This is absolutely counter intuitive - even scandalous!
Other than Jesus, himself, nobody does a better job of explaining this phenomenon for us than Paul. Paul masterfully depicts the critical element of God’s love toward us and presses us to emulate the divine paradigm:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:5-8
The supremacy of God’s love is not clearer anywhere else! If we want to know what love really is, we have to look no further than God’s love for us!
While we relish the great ecstasy of God’s lavish love, we must remember that we are called to be replicas of that love in our everyday lives. We are called to follow the Christ example of humbling ourselves. We are called to put others first.
In our society love does not hold the same weight that it does when we look at the Jesus way of loving. Our culture redefines key elements of the nature of love. In our time, love is conditional. Humility is correlative to merit. Existentialism has torn us away from the ideals of connectedness that Jesus illustrated over and over again.
The challenge for us is to sidestep the cultural definitions and stick to the playbook that Jesus provided. We are called to love extravagantly. We are called to forget what we deserve and humble ourselves before people who may or may not deserve LESS than we do. These aren’t easy ideas to deal with. This isn’t the rose-colored lens through which we typically see love defined.
The truth of Jesus’ example of love is that it is hard. Just like those Coltrane solos, it contends with the waxing and waning of persistent challenges and trials. Jesus’ example of love is far from easy. But it is the zenith of everything that love is.
As we go out into this week, let’s agree to take closer looks at Jesus’ example of love. Let’s look at the nuances of his ways. As we look, let’s resolve to emulate him. If we do it right, I’m willing to bet that we will find ourselves enjoying a renaissance of love in our lives and in the lives of everyone we touch.
And... no. I’m not talking about fly by night, flimsy love. I’m talking about the kind of love that God demonstrated through Jesus. I’m talking about A LOVE SUPREME!
What’s the greatest expression of love that I’ve ever seen?
What’s the greatest expression of love that I’ve ever given?
What is humility? Does my concept of it associate with merit?
How can I be a better reflector of Christ’s example of love?