I recently read Tim Keller’s book on work, Every Good Endeavor. One of the most important takeaways for me was learning more about John Coltrane, who is the inspiration for Keller’s title. Keller quotes the original liner notes to Coltrane’s most famous album, A Love Supreme, which use the words “every good endeavor.” This week I bought the album, something I should have done a long time ago. Here are those original liner notes, now in a CD booklet. Keller only excerpts the notes, but I feel the whole thing was worth sharing—”a love supreme” turns out to be Coltrane’s new persuasive words for God/grace:
ALL PRAISE BE TO GOD TO WHOM ALL PRAISE IS DUE.
Let us pursue Him in the righteous path. Yes it is true; ‘seek and ye shall find’. Only through Him can we know the most wondrous bequeathal.
During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.
As time and events moved on, a period of irresolution did prevail. I entered into a phase which was contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteemed path; but thankfully, now and again through the unerring and merciful hand of God, I do perceive and have been duly re-informed of His OMNIPOTENCE, and of our need for, and dependence on Him. At this time I would like to tell you that NO MATTER WHAT … IT IS WITH GOD. HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL. HIS WAY IS IN LOVE, THROUGH WHICH WE ALL ARE. IT IS TRULY – A LOVE SUPREME – .
This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD’ through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.
The music herein is presented in four parts. The first is entitled ‘ACKNOWLEDGEMENT’, the second, ‘RESOLUTION’, the third, ‘PURSUANCE’, and the fourth and last part is a musical narration of the theme, ‘A LOVE SUPREME’ which is written in the context; it is entitled ‘PSALM’. …
He then has several paragraphs of acknowledgements that I am cutting before he goes on to say,
May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain – it is all with God – in all ways and forever.
ALL PRAISE TO GOD.
With love to all, I thank you,
As a bonus, Keller also tells a very interesting story about Coltrane’s only live performance of A Love Supreme. The story is timely for those of us in churches that follow a liturgical calendar, making this Sunday the Presentation of Our Lord at the temple when Luke 2 is read, containing the song of Simeon, or nunc dimittis:
Something happened to Coltrane to reveal his self. One night, after an exceptionally brilliant performance of the suite, A Love Supreme—a thirty-two minute outpouring of praise to God—he stepped down from the stage and was heard to say, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ These are Simeon’s words in Luke 2 after he had seen the promised Messiah. They mean, essentially, ‘I could die happy now.’ Coltrane claimed to have had an experience of God’s love that liberated him from the work for the sake of the work itself. He had been given God’s power and had felt God’s pleasure. Coltrane had stopped making music for his own sake. He did it for the music’s sake, the listener’s sake, and God’s sake. (Every Good Endeavor, 240-241)
Something that interests me about grace, whether from God or the rare type from other people, is that grace breeds creativity in the recipient—something both Coltrane and Keller explain in the commentary above. Grace breeding creativity is so counter to the world’s wisdom, which believes creativity and output must be willed into place. Funny thing is, if we are forced, our work or art is not done in gratitude but for the sake of obligation. Grace, on the other hand, may produce results much later, but the output is in gratitude, something truly creative.
In Anglican traditions we often read or sing the nunc dimittis as a canticle (fancy for “song”) at Morning Prayer services. I leave you with words that comfort so many every morning. I also leave you with a video of Coltrane’s live performance that one night long ago when he whispered these very words:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
The icons of Coltrane are all from the Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, my home town.