Our Spontaneous Pope
and his Jazz-like Spirit
...off-the-cuff homilies, phone calls to ordinary folk and unscripted interviews...
Appreciating our Spontaneous Pope
I don't know if he likes jazz, but what I know is that, as a jazz lover, I like his spirit. He likes to improvise and be in the moment; he likes spontaneity and diversity. That's a good beginning. He seems to have what those of us in the process theological tradition call a Fat Soul. Patricia Adams Farmer from Ecuador puts it this way:
"A really fat soul can welcome diverse people, ideas, and ways of being in the world without feeling threatened. A fat soul experiences the intensity of life in its fullness, even the painful side of life, and knows there is something still bigger . . .”
Let's be clear. Pope Francis also loves tradition, as do many jazz musicians. Jazz musicians build upon the jazz standards of the past, appreciating their rhythms and melodies, and then do something creative with them. They do not create out of nothing, they create out of preexisting materials and remix things, building upon what they find beautiful. And so does the Pope. He builds upon traditions within Christianity that highlight the dignity of each person regardless of race, class, or gender; he seems to prefer Jesus' example of a simple life, uncluttered by too many frills; and he believes that the mysterious heart of the universe -- the God who is love -- is a spacious container in whose empathy and mercy all beings dwell.
Does he believe that there is a little bit of becoming in this God? I bet he does. I bet he believes that every moment of joy and suffering undergone by finite mortals on our planet is also experienced and shared by the infinite love of the caring God. I could be wrong on this. He might say that God is all being and no becoming. But if he does, I suspect that by being he means something dynamic and active and empathetic. Something Christ-like. Sounds like process theology to me. What is being? What is becoming? Just words. What is important is the love and it has a moving quality.
And how about all that kissing? Something tells me that the Pope Francis is not all that afraid of bodies. I think he has fallen into the mystery of incarnation, which takes us into the world, not away from the world, such that we find God in the flesh, not apart from it. I think he knows what a kindred spirit, Jean Vanier, calls the wisdom of tenderness as found in the vulnerable, beautiful, and sometimes broken body.
The mass? I think there's a sense for inter-being in this Pope, too. Maybe he believes that, when we celebrate the eucharist, the bodies of all beings are contained in the bread and wine, and not the body of Christ alone. Or, to put it differently, maybe he believes, with Whitehead, that all actual entities are present in all other actual entities. This would mean that in Jesus' very body the universe was present. Perhaps as we celebrate the mass and participate in the liturgy, we are awakening to inter-being: to the fact that we are all in it together, sinners and saints alike.
I do not wonder these things as a Catholic. I wonder them as a Methopalian: that is, as someone who wants to share in the journey of Jesus and who belongs to a Methodist church and an Episcopal church. I am nourished by the liturgy of the Episcopalians, the informality of the Methodists, and the friendships of kindred seekers in both communities.
I wish I could be part of only one community, because I don't like to be divided. But life is life.
Nevertheless, at least for me, the Pope described above, even if only a figment of my imagination, is the kind of person I'd like to be. I'd like to be a jazz musician and a fat soul, whose life and heart dwell with the poor and powerless of the world, who kisses the feet of people old and young, who tries to live simply, who is sensitive to inter-being, and who finds nourishment in work and play and prayer, in solitude and in community. I want to become a better Christian. But I'll take inspiration from any place I can find it: hills and rivers, dogs and cats, Bibles and Qur'ans, poets and popes. Life is too short to cut off wisdom from whatever sources we have.
Patricia Adams Farmer has written an article on Dave Brubeck with the subtitle: Theology in 5/4 Time. Seems to me that we have a Pope who is trying to create a 5/4 Catholicism. At least this is how I imagine him.
I have Christian friends who have their axes to grind with Catholicism: its patriarchy, hierarchy, wealth, presumption. Let it be. Some of these critics are Catholic themselves. I think the Pope may have a few problems with his tradition, too. Whoever expects perfection from a human institution must wait a long, long time. The good news is that traditions are evolving over time and can change over time. They are journeys, and they include the journey in whose movements I walk and dwell, ever so close to my heart. I don't like to fix it too firmly in my imagination, because it becomes an idol. Early on it was called the Way and now it is called Christianity. I like to call it walking in Christ with help from others who are also trying to walk in Christ. It's a little long and not too catchy, but it comes close to what I really have in mind. At its best this walking is so rich, so fluid, so earthy, so beautiful, that I can't imagine walking without it. Good luck, Pope, whoever you are. I want to walk with you.
-- Jay McDaniel