Fans of contemporary jazz music will instantly recognize the memorable title of Pat Metheny's 2006 Grammy Award winning album "The Way Up."
Simply put, "The Way Up" is a masterpiece of composition, executed in Metheny's characteristic gets-stuck-deep-in-your-head style that, once in resonance there, tickles the inside of your skullcap - in a really good way. In fact, I'm listening to it right now.
I'm no music critic. I barely pass as a bassist - ask anyone who has jammed with me - and my description of Metheny's work is not very artful, but I know great music when I hear it.
I guess it's kinda like that for me with matters of faith, too. Though my powers of depiction fall short when I try to put it into words, something inside me awakens, is energized or soothed, or some combination thereof, when I come into contact with God's love for all people. And this time of year, the Christmas season, is a really great time to open yourself to that kind of experience.
Here's the deal: Many of us go about our lives searching for the way up. Our culture encourages us to pursue status, title, and privilege. Ambition drives us to seek promotion or higher income. Hunger for more excitement, stimulation, or not wanting to "miss out" on something drives us to exotic destinations or a new hobby or yet another leisure activity.
Desire for greater comfort or simple distraction draws us deeper into our personal pleasure cocoon, isolated from the most inconvenient truth that there are people in this world - heck, even in this town - barely surviving. For others, a visceral aching for escape takes us into abuse of substances or behaviors to just get numb - a kind of way out rather than up.
Yet psychologists tell us of something called post-traumatic growth. This is the notion that significant emotional trials, personal crises, prolonged discomfort or shocks to our ego can actually stimulate positive growth in us, bring out our best qualities, even elicit joy upon later reflection.
So, ironically, the stuff in life we are often trying hardest to avoid may be the very things God is using to draw us nearer to Him, strengthen our inner self, maybe even help someone else - a not-so-obvious way up. This is where the Christmas season comes in.
You see, this mystical spirit thingy inside of me springs alive when I hear the story of a King who left the pleasance of His kingdom, a blissful realm where He was continually exalted for His virtue, to come here and serve.
Born as an illegitimate child in indecorous surroundings to a world that would ultimately despise and murder Him, Jesus intentionally accepted the worst demotion in history - the ultimately shock to the ego. But He understood the way up. He knew we needed a way up, too. So I guess He figured it was worth it.
Now He asks if we will follow His example by humbling ourselves to sacrifice, to serve, even to suffer, if necessary, as a path to the way up.
I love jazz (thank you, Ken Burns) ... Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Chet Baker. Man, something about their music speaks to an inner part of me in a really good way that defies description. These artists have found a way to reach me and take me to places I couldn't go on my own. I guess you could say the same about Jesus. He showed me the way up. Merry Christmas, everybody.
Mark Everett hangs out with a motley bunch of Jesus followers at RealLife in Juneau. For more information, visit www.reallifefoursquare.org.