Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Improvisation and Extempore Prayer

Been doing some work with students this afternoon on prayer. Tried using a bit of Charlie Parker alongside the famous “My King is" benediction from Dr. Lockeridge.

We were looking at extempore prayer and I was keen to establish that praying out of the moment needn’t be dull or banal. Also wanted to get at what it is that helps us to lead prayer effectively without having to write it all out before hand. I think Charlie and the Doc did the trick.

Parker was a musical genius. Playing a clip of him improvising showed just how inventive, moving and complex making it up on the spot can be. As did Lockeridge’s benediction.

For those that don’t know the story, as I understand it a preacher who was drawing towards the close of a service spotted the renowned Doctor in the congregation. Social faux pas or what! Such a distinguished guest should have been given a proper welcome. Thinking on his feet, improvising if you like, the preacher announced how pleased he was to have Lockeridge visiting and invited him to pray the Benediction. What followed was a tour de force. Maybe it was as much a sermon as a prayer but boy is it an object lesson in going extempore.

The connection? Well what made Parker such a stunning improviser was a number of things on top of his innate genius, including:
1) He practiced, practiced, practiced.
2) He knew chords scales and harmony inside out.
3) He was prepared to just go for it.
4) He was ready to go where his gut led him pushing beyond what others had achieved or even tried before him.
5) It mattered to him. It mattered more than we can imagine.

In the same way extempore prayer can fly like a bird, Dr. Lockeridge style, when:
1) We learn how to do it by committing to doing it. And doing it again. And again.
2) We know our theology and draw on what we know.
3) We launch ourselves into the payer of the moment with abandon.
4) We are ready to try out new forms of expression, unexpected images, and innovative styles as they occur to us.
5) We put our heart as well as our head into it. When God matters to us. Really matters. Matters more than words can say.

Are there differences? Of course there are. But I’m not interested in the differences. My point is the similarities that lie behind the power of both improvisation in music and extemporisation in prayer. It think the students got it.

For those who aren’t familiar with Parker here's a taster.

For those who haven’t come across Lockeridge’s prayer here it is. (Of the various versions available on Youtube I’ve gone for the unedited, unremixed, unillustrated version. It seems to me that it captures the energy and power of the original far better than some of the jazzed up (!) alternatives.)

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