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August 7, 2007

What's Revealed in the Process

I am married to a jazz musician. I have to admit that there was a certain romantic notion swirling around the thought of life with an artist. We shared a love and study of music, albeit two very different styles. I was a classically trained pianist whose concept of jazz was limited to the elevator variety. He was a be-bop fanatic who thought the Eagles were a group of ball players in Philly. Needless to say, through the last few years we have contributed much to each other's musical universe, but it wasn't until my husband convinced me to study a little jazz piano that my creative world was really turned inside out.

Of course, my first thought was that playing jazz couldn't be that different from how I'd played music all my life. Give me the music and an hour and I'll give you one fabulous jazz piano performance. My husband would discreetly pull at his hair and then gently remind me that I was missing out on the essence of jazz music - that the beauty is in the journey. That sounded like sentimental musical hooey to me, so I would nod and then continue on in the way I secretly knew was best.

Perhaps I do not need to explain at this point why those jazz lessons contributed to not a few tense marital moments.

At the end of laughing at myself, I realized that my husband was teaching me so much more than jazz theory. Learning this music challenged my concept of self-discovery. I had always considered myself an artist of a certain variety. I loved to write, to play music, to dance. Nothing gave me more pleasure than a finished project. And, to borrow from another creative soul: "Ay, there's the rub."

Our era has convinced us that productivity is the defining characteristic of the life well lived. Even inside of our Christian culture, it has become a secondary virtue of sorts. We are a people given to checking off boxes at the end of the day. Of course, there is a necessary value in getting things done, but I'm talking about something bigger, something deeper we crave inside of our being.

We use our creativity to finish a painting, to write a paper, even to organize our kitchens (by the way, those of you that have that talent are welcome to come to my home and be creative all day long.) Then we can point to our finished product and say, "Look, I was creative." But, perhaps, we miss out on something very life-giving when creativity is simply the means to an end.

Listen to an artist who volunteers his time to work with troubled teens. Listen to the musician who mentors young jazz players. Listen to the writer who teaches young girls to journal their lives as story. Very few of them will talk about the final product as the desired outcome. Rather, they will talk about what was uncovered along the way and they will excitedly tell you the story behind every piece of writing, every canvass, every composition. Without our subterranean journeys, our art has no life and we inevitably lose sight of the big picture.

It is important for us to remember that God is so often revealed in the process, yes, even the artistic process, and not simply the conclusion. As artists, as leaders, as women, our souls bloom when we embrace the process of discovery, when we create for the sake of enjoying life and understanding our humanity. This very thinking may run counter to our cultural mandate of having the perfect product completed yesterday, but creativity requires freedom.

The best lesson I am learning in my jazz lessons is more about life than it is about playing the piano. I keep it up now with no ambitions to be a great jazz pianist, but rather because of how the process is changing my thinking. When I think about my own artistic endeavors, my call to work with other artists and creatives, I pray constantly for the eyes to see beyond the bottom line. There is wisdom in understanding the process, and Miles Davis, one of the great children of jazz, penned it rather perfectly: "If you hit a wrong note, it's the next note that you play that makes it good or bad." Amen.


Thanks for this. I heard God's rhythm in it.

Hi Jodi. I am in ministry and an artist and it is so amazing to hear other women who are called to both - and to marry them together! I loved what you had to say. Thankyou, not just for your words, but for reminding me that there are more of us out there & I belong to something incredible that God is doing across the globe through the arts!

What a beautiful picture, Jodi! I have always struggled with being more concerned about the end product, than with the process. Your thoughts were a great reminder that I am a work in progress. It also struck me that ministry is an art and a creative process, as well -- not a science, as some might have us believe. The real success comes during the shaping, not in the finished product.

This Os Chambers quote from My Utmost For His Highest has been a life-definer for me, and echoes Jodi's thoughts:

"What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process - that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God."

Check out the entire 7/28 entry - it captures the essence of process beautifully.

Hi Jodi,

You are so right! Many of us have become human doings rather than human beings.

Thank you for the reminder and invitation to enjoy the process, to enjoy the journey.

It has only these past couple of years that I have practiced living in the present moment, and I am experiencing the value in disconnecting from the end result, so I can enjoy the process.

Keep following the rythem of your heart.
coach doreen

geeze this is one of the best articles that I have ever read and I didnt know you where trained as a classical pianist anyway your article is cool.

by the way you should expect something like this from me everytime you write a great article like this

Before I leave for Australia in January, I would absolutely love to sit down with you over coffee or tea and pick your brain on whatever you have to tell me about music ministry. I am the new morning receptionist at CCC by the way, and also that friend of Brooke's that you met awhile back at the Well. Look forward to seeing you. I never knew you were a classically trained pianist- I am as well.

Thanks for the encouraging words which i received after reading ur article.I praise the Lord for using you and your family in the service of His ministry.

Hi Jodi, Your writing was definitely God sent. In fact this morning as I was spending time with the Lord, and walking retracing my steps from where I am to where i was, I hit upon the unusual picture but was unable to define what I saw and wondered whether the Lord was happy with my life for I did not seem to have reached where I hoped to. But having read all that you wrote and the responses, I know HE is THRILLED with me for it is the process He is interested in and the manner I undertook it that excites Him. Yes I know I am pleasing Him.Thankyou for writing what you wrote in response to His leading, to answer me. Thanks all the same. - Rosy, Corporate Trainer

You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it.e

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