It’s been a couple of weeks now since I retreated into the autumn woods of eastern Pennsylvania to consider “Jazz and the Spiritual Life.” My friend and co-conspirator in that area (jazz-spirituality) Bill Carter led a small group of us in some listening, some viewing, some conversation, and a couple of field trips to a long-time and well-respected jazz venue called the Deer Head Inn.

Believe it or not, a couple of us in that group don’t perform or compose jazz. We are just among the breed known as musically-inept jazz aficionados. The rest of those gathered in that sacred space were musicians, and among them were a trumpet player, a couple of pianists, a singer, and one person who plays recorder. Not jazz recorder; just recorder. No matter; she knows jazz, and knows it from a generation or two back. And the jazz musicians she’s heard in concert…well, it’s a long list of legends! And it’s just a matter of time before that recorder of hers swings.

If you’ve explored these posts previously, you know Bill Carter. He’s the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, Pa., and he is one fine jazz pianist. And composer. And founder/leader of the Presbybop Jazz group (usually a quartet, sometimes a quintet, sometimes any number can play). Rather than use lines here to describe Bill’s talents, just go to and scroll through the treasures there.

The first time I joined Bill on one of his retreats, it was a larger conference called “Jazz in the Church.” Or, something like that. Dave Brubeck came. The jazz master was invited so that church/jazz fans could learn more about — and honor him for — his “sacred” jazz works. Bill spoke about Brubeck’s music and Brubeck nodded and smiled throughout. It was a rich, rich experience.

But this October past, the group was more intimate, and the event was to be a bit more meditative, more reflective. No guest star this time. Unless it was the Deer Head Inn. (But more on that in my next entry.) I’m not going to record my notes here because I didn’t take any that weekend. At my age I don’t do that anymore. I just listen more carefully and absorb more fully the sounds I hear and the feelings I sense. Listen to Coltrane. Sense the spirit of his music. Or, the Spirit in his music. Listen to Bill Evans. To Billie Holiday. Heavy lament from burdened hearts. Play some Ellington. Ella! Or, Bird. Beware: their blues might lead to Light, once inaccessible, no longer hid from our hearts. Utter joy. Lush life indeed, Kenton.

If someone had just added a touch of lilt to a lute, or samba to a psaltery, maybe the Psalmist would have written that tears might linger for the night, but feet will tap a dance of gladness by the time the club closes at 3 a.m.

On our retreat we gathered in a circle and listened to jazz recordings in a new way, and with new purpose. We saw some jazz videos, classic performances and young lions. We shared our own stories and as Christian folk do in such settings, we opened ourselves to the Spirit’s holiest communion with The Story. Praise and lament. Solitude and community. Word and music. Yes, the spiritual life.