Learning to Play the Blues

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To be honest, there’s been a lot going on lately. Hence why this is my first blog post in about a month or so. Stuff’s been going on that isn’t worth airing on social media or blogging. So I’ll just leave it  like that. (I’ll let you imaginations run wild with me being abducted by aliens who torture you by making you do complex math word problems). One thing I will say is that as I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve learned a therapeutic lean in learning to play the blues.

I’ve let my guitar teacher know a bit about the struggles and he suggested the blues. Just some basic blues licks and notes. I’ve been amazed how helpful basic minor notes can be. I’ve listened to the blues from time to time over the years (I have a blues playlist with John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, BB King, and others on my phone). I’m not a blues expert, but I do know that the blues is the foundation for our rock n roll today. Blues has influenced so much in our culture and music. Blues is music that grew out of the Jim Crow era of the segregated south. It’s filled with pain, suffering, struggles, and reflections about the world, relationships, and life itself.

As I sit with guitar and strum those blues licks, I’ve begun to identify with those minor notes. Those minor notes sing to me in a way that I can’t fully explain. They fill the grief and pain that I’ve felt with a feeling of accompaniment. They accompany what’s been going on by filling what can’t be said with a minor note that does. Those blues licks speak when I can’t.

And then I begin to think about Scripture. I begin to think about what it means to pray when we don’t know how to pray. That’s what I feel at times. I just don’t know what to pray for.

Paul writes about this in Romans

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26

The Holy Spirit strikes the minor notes when we don’t know how to sing. The Holy Spirit fills the gap with groans of prayers to God when our hearts just don’t know how to pray. And I’ve felt that way lately. Those groans, those minor notes, speak when I can’t.

And so I learn to play the blues some more. The blues licks and notes fill the room playing out my emotions and struggles. I struggle with my fingering and rhythm. But that’s okay. Those notes ring out as do the wordless groans of the Holy Spirit. The music speaks when I can’t, the Holy Spirit prays for me when I can’t.

The thing is, is that you can’t stay in the blues forever. The song has to end sometime. As one wise person told me, you have to play a major chord or note eventually. There will be a time where the notes have to have an upward resonance.

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In Israel’s history, there was a time when the blues needed to be played. The people had been in exile, returning to their homeland 70 years later. The play was in ruins. And they began to rebuild Jerusalem and the city walls. When the city walls had been rebuilt, the people heard the word of God read by Ezra the priest. And then the people cried. They grieved. They were convicted by God’s word and knew they had done wrong in life. They saw where they had messed up. They also saw where they were in pain, struggling, hurting, and in the suckiness of life.

And then the governor Nehemiah said to them

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

The blues was played but then they had to strike a major note. Minor notes are important but they must lead to a major note eventually.

My wife and I had a discussion about the 7th in chords. That is like a G7, a C7, D7, etc. The 7th is a lower sounding chord that is played. It’s off a bit from the major. But the thing is, is that it anticipates a major chord. In fact, it needs a major chord to complete it. Without a major chord it’s incomplete.

In the blues, in our grieving, in our praying through the Holy Spirit, we need to anticipate Jesus. He is the one it all leads up to. He’s the one who wept by the graveside of a dear friend he was about the raise from the dead. He’s the one who stood comforting parents grieving the death of a daughter that he was going to raise from the dead. Jesus lived the blues but he brought the major notes to the completion.

And so when I play the blues, I know that my struggles ring out with the minor notes. But I also know that I have a promise of the major chords. The promise that there will be something good down the road. And playing the major chords remind me of that even when I play the blues.

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