Words from the Road: Sabbatical Update #5

A note from Jamie Howison: This is the fifth in a series of weekly updates regarding my unfolding sabbatical study leave. For background on my work during these two months, plus other updates visit the sabbatical news page.


had assumed that I would be writing this update during the course of my flight from New York to Minneapolis, en route to St John’s Abbey in Collegeville. I’d had a real banner day yesterday, culminating in a great meal followed by some amazing music by The Ari Hoenig Group at Small’s Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. It was to have been my last big outing on this leg of my study leave, and while I still wasn’t entirely ready to leave New York, I had begun to shift gears toward my month in Collegeville.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions… my flight is canceled, due to the bad weather that is sweeping across the midwest, and even though they have rebooked me for late tomorrow afternoon there is no guarantee that things will have improved enough to land in Milwaukee, which is where my flights connect. Add to that the fact that my apartment was not available to me beyond check-out time this morning, and things begin to get a bit complicated. I did manage to find a very affordable hotel option for the night, and so it looks like I’m at least one more day and night in Manhattan. Given my affection for this city, you’d think that would be a good thing, but with the unknowns that come with the weather I’d really rather be on my way. Oh, and the hotel I found is a Comfort Inn, in a great location on West 71st Street about a half block from Central Park. Walking from the subway, I passed the famous Dakota Apartments on West 72nd, where Yoko Ono still lives. I’m telling you, though, Yoko has way more floor space than I do; my hotel room is by far the smallest I’ve ever seen. That accounts for the “affordable” part of this equation. Ah well, such is life.

The past week was really quite marvelous. Not only did I get a really good start made on the actual writing of this proposed book, but I also heard some wonderful music (notably the Charles Lloyd New Quartet at the Lincoln Center, and of course Ari Hoenig at Small’s), and managed to get myself to the Brooklyn Museum to see, among other things, Judy Chicago’s art installation “The Dinner Party.”

Sunday found me engaged in two very, very different church settings. At 4pm it was Revolution Church, which is held in a bar in Brooklyn and pastored by Jay Bakker (the son of Jim and Tammy Bakker). There were about 40 of us crammed into the place for what wasn’t really worship – no singing, and only a closing prayer – but more a rambling talk by Bakker on the parable of the sheep and the goats, with a side tour into 1 Corinthians 13. He seems a really decent guy, and he’s clearly still searching for a way to connect all of the dots from his past.

From 6:30 to 9:00pm I was at something called St Lydia’s Dinner Church, which was a great experience. Founded by two young women and a group of their friends, the idea is to gather a group of people (there were 14 of us) to prepare supper together and then to share in a communion-centered meal. They meet in a Lutheran Church, setting up the tables in the worship space, and using table cloths, real dishes, candles, along with some other nice touches. Though they are in the process of officially affiliating with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, like us their people are drawn from a range of backgrounds. And we sang some wonderfully simple and elegant music, all unaccompanied and without any books or paper in hand. Though clearly a different thing from saint ben’s, I did feel as if they were pursuing some of the same kinds of things as us. Might be good to go with something like this approach the next time we do a round of house communions.

And finally, I did want to mention the wonderful conversation I had with John Patitucci, one of the premiere jazz bass players on the scene. John invited me to meet him for lunch up north of Manhattan where he lives, and we spent a couple of hours talking about faith, music, church, and life. He’s played for years in the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and his reflections on the presence of God in the creation of that improvisational music were really quite moving.

With Wayne I’d have to say that in all my life, because of the way that God has blessed that group of people, that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to feeling the divine power of God. In the Wayne Shorter Quartet, when stuff just starts happening—because in that band you’re dealing with people who are all composers and who are also, because of the way Wayne likes to do things, group oriented as opposed to just individually driven. And we take chances, completely. We start from nothing and improvise music that is tonal, lyrical, contrapuntal. And then anybody can cue one of Wayne’s pieces, and we go in. You’ll start from nothing and think ‘Wow, I don’t really have anything tonight,’ and somebody will do something and you’ll think, ‘wait a minute.’ And then it’s a big journey. I call it the ultimate microcosm of what Christian community would be if people would just be willing to take chances, and get out of the comfort zone and be that other-oriented. I’m speaking of myself too. It is easy for me to do it on the band-stand somehow. Sometimes you’re playing and all these things are happening, and you’re like ‘Well, that’s God.’ – John Patitucci

Anyway, it looks like thanks to this flight cancelation I’ll have a few more hours in the Union library, and quite probably another session up at the Jazz Museum. After all, one does have to make the best of things!

Oh, and inspired by Bram’s photographs that include movement, I’m including a few of my far less artful ones below, both taken during last night’s set at Small’s.


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And a quick update… my Wednesday flight has now been cancelled, so at best I’m looking at flying out late Thursday morning. However, given that the bad weather has now hit New York, it is really hard to know if even that is going to work.  And here, we’re getting freezing rain, which has turned the sidewalks into skating rinks and made walking a real adventure.

So I’m thinking I’m just going to make the best of it, and see about making my way (slowly) down to the Museum of Modern Art to spend at least a few hours  there. That’s one of the things I hadn’t managed to make time for during my scheduled month, so I might as well give it a go today.

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One Response to Words from the Road: Sabbatical Update #5

  1. Great stuff all around!

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