So What?–Grace and Acceptance

So WhatThe following brief exchange between two anonymous men, as quoted in The New Dictionary of Thoughts, occurred in the 1850s, and came to mind as I began writing this piece.

“What is grace?” was asked of an old colored man, who, for over forty years, had been a slave.

“Grace,” he replied, “is what I should call giving something for nothing.”

Yes, I thought, and in his tragic case “giving something for nothing” against his will embodies the spirit of grace.

The proud elderly gentleman’s statement implies faith in a form of grace that transcends the shackles and brutality of forty years of life in slavery.

My imagination took me to another meeting between a master and one who had known another kind of slavery—the shackles of racism and personal addiction.

With outstretched arms, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, carpenter and Son of God, greeted Miles Davis, trumpeter and Prince of Darkness, upon the latter’s arrival in heaven. The famous musician was given the nickname because of his aloof, brooding, and at times combative personality.

“Play something for me, please,” said the Prince of Peace.

Miles looked over the rim of his sunglasses, but maintained his taciturn stance.

“I beg you?” requested the Galilean, who also knew great suffering.

Intrigued by his entreaty, the trumpeter turned away from his host and began to play.

Jesus stood in awe, and when the last note faded into silence he bowed. “Welcome, my son,” he said, “that was beautiful!”

Miles slowly turned to face his gracious host and without removing his sunglasses or making eye contact, he declared, “Thank you.”

Jesus, the embodiment of openness, unconditional acceptance, and limitless empathy drew the musician into his embrace. “I know it well,” he replied, “the first track, “So What,” on your album. Gabriel plays it often.”

Several days ago I listened to Kind of Blue, all six tracks of the innovative recording by Miles Davis, but I played the opening track, “So What,” over and over. I never tire of listening to the creative and inventive music, an indispensable part of my jazz library, and on this occasion, while repeating the first track, I imagined the meeting between Jesus and Miles.  An event that, if it occurred and I hope a facsimile of my imaginings did happen, it was with an outpouring of grace—God’s unmerited favor.

Jimmy Cobb, the drummer in the Miles Davis Quintet at the time of the studio recording (1959), remarked with reverence: “… [Kind of Blue] it must have been made in heaven.”

Maybe so, and though I know it is a studio album recorded at Columbia in New York City, something of the divine threads its way through the tones and melodies of the recording that belies its humble, earth-bound creation on 30th Street.

I’ve been thinking about God’s grace and unconditional acceptance, concepts that came alive in my soul as I listened to the iconic tracks, “So What” in particular.

Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist, believed that people grow in an environment of self-disclosure and genuineness, unconditional acceptance and positive regard, and having the experience of empathy (being listened to and understood).

I agree. I imagine a forgiving God of grace, and a space wherein Carl Rogers’ theory facilitates change. A brooding Miles Davis, musical genius and Prince of Darkness, might be overwhelmed by Jesus’ unmerited favor and embrace in a heavenly setting of unconditional acceptance—but that’s grace.

Theologian Frederick Buechner believes that the Jesus’ narrative and the gift of grace (unconditional acceptance) introduce us to the possibility of wholeness:

Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and the storm within, and if ever we are to find shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start.

I often look in the mirror and, to my chagrin, see pretentiousness and brokenness—one of many times when Carl Rogers’ principles and the embrace and shelter of a Biblical truth regarding grace escape me.

Miles Davis experienced the “dark night of the soul” in ways foreign to me—racism and addiction most prominent among them. But I do know, and share with the trumpeter, what Buechner describes as being “…vulnerable to the storm without and the storm within…and the recognition of our tragic nakedness…”

The older man, despite great suffering, saw what the slave master missed: the gift of acceptance for who we are, just as we are, imperfections included. And Miles Davis, in spite of being chained to addiction, heard the divine in his soul.

Gratitude and acceptance have become my companions, a gratefulness for the inestimable value of each of us, and acceptance of the gift that each of us is.



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  1. Rich Hope

    Thanks Roger for your imagination and sharing the meaning and mysteries of music…and God’s grace for each of us.
    Listening here recently to Los Lobos and their varied melodies (and bass lines) that drive their messages to us to enjoy and contemplate.
    Keep imagining!

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Will do, and Los Lobos is wonderful!

  2. JoAnne Kurman

    “…. and if ever we are to find shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness.” That really hit me, especially tragic nakedness. The best I am able to understand that, the more genuine of a human being I will become, I believe – and the closer to others I will be able to feel. Why be stripped to tragic nakedness before being able to touch the divine in ourselves? Maybe it unmasks the pretension and self deception that we aren’t even aware is going on. What a terrifying blessing to feel unabashedly naked among others. It takes real courage to be real at all times.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Jo Anne,
      Thanks for this comment, and yes I believe it does take “real courage” to be vulnerable, stripped of the pretenses we don’t always acknowledge, and in so doing allow the other “in.”

  3. gary Lievre

    Great piece Doc. You did a great job of capturing Miles and relating that to heaven. I too have listened to So What many times and agree with Cobb. Great piece Doc.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Thank you, Gary. Next time I’m “in town” let’s listen again to Kind of Blue–my guess is we’ll hear something new and maybe heavenly…

  4. Colette

    Your closing reference to gratitude and acceptance touches my heart and soul as I am in the midst of a heavy and complicated process after the recent death of my cousin, like sister. I am working toward that embracing grace of accepting each of us just as we are, imperfect beings, and your piece spoke to me. I love how your imaginings paint pictures, blending the inspired music of Miles, with the wisdom of Rogers and Buechner, to help us see and feel our humble humanity. Thank you, mon ami, for sharing your thoughts and giving me some comfort, as I grieve and accept this gift of life, love, loss and lessons.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Hi Colette,
      Thank you for commenting during this rough patch for you, and I’m glad you found some comfort in the thoughts and images. The 4-L’s you mention often creep up on us when we’re least prepared, but I agree with you–all of them are gifts, though the unwrapping may at times be uncomfortable.


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