The Blues. What do you think of? Sadness. Depression. That great river of sound flowing up from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis to Chicago, on and on. I have a great love for blues music; but some friends mock me a little on that—”oh, the blues, you mean like: I’m tore down… lost my job… going down slow… born under a bad sign… hellhound on my trail… the thrill is gone… my baby left me… nobody loves me… high water everywhere… dark was the night, cold was the ground… cry, cry, cry.” Two things. First, those reflect real human experiences. Most people feel these things; too many of us experience them. I’ve known the blues; you? Second, blues music at its root expresses real blue feelings; but it wasn’t meant to leave us there. Ultimately, the blues lifts us out of the muck and mire of life. As the spiritual masters say, we must descend in order to ascend. That’s why I sing the blues.
It’s like the lotus flower (Nymphaea caerulea). Rooted in mud at the bottom of a pond or swamp, the lotus rises up out of the mud and the muck, spreading its leaves on the surface of the water, it’s bloom emerging above it all, pristine, beautiful. It’s no wonder the Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus. To paraphrase the Buddha, we all experience blues; and we can all find a breath greater than the muck and mire of life.
In the Judeo-Christian songbook we hear the blues in the Psalms. Most of the songs-poems-prayers in the Book of Psalms are “laments.” Blues songs if ever there was. Human pain, suffering, struggle, hard times, bad luck, injustice–it’s all there. Their honesty is striking. And, if we listen, we hear the turning point as well, the faith that God hears our cries, knows our needs, and comes to raise us up. Read Jonah 2 for a class example.
And, who had more reason to sing the blues than Jesus of Nazareth. He took all the brokenness of the human world upon himself. He descended in order to ascend. He died and rose again. Good Friday, the brutal death of Jesus, is the New Testament’s most powerful blues expression; but God does not leave him or us there. Easter is God’s answer. I could name a thousand songs that express the rising, the gospel (Good News) God offers to all who know the blues. For one gospel taste listen to Patty Griffin’s recording of “Move Up.” Move on up, above and beyond the muck and the mire of life. This is my prayer for you.
Just another bluesman on the banks of the river,
Pastor, Faith United Methodist Church, Austin
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