Saturday I watched episode 8 of Ken Burns’ movie Jazz, a documentary that Andrea and I started 2 years ago while still living in Kentucky and somehow never finished. If you’ve never seen any of Burns’ work, his documentaries are outstanding. His three major ones are on the Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz, which he considers to be the three quintessential elements of Americana, and his newest endeavor is titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; it premiers this Sunday at 8 eastern on PBS.

While watching this particular episode from Jazz, I was sobered by how often these amazing musicians found themselves enslaved to drugs and alcohol and saddened by the vast number of them who turned to addictions to find relief. I don’t say that with any thoughts of superiority; we all have sinful refuges we turn to besides our Creator, and, for many in that era of jazz music, drugs were the escape hatch from the pressures that surrounded them; pressures that ranged from racism to road life. It was just disheartening to hear about how their lives crumbled around them and their talent was often squandered.

In the midst of that discussion, a story about Miles Davis had clear echoes of redemption.

Inspired by [Sugar Ray] Robinson’s seriousness about his craft [of boxing] and finally weary of the life his addiction was forcing him to lead, Davis resolved to kick his habit. Characteristically, he determined to do it on his own. He had just finished an engagement with Max Roach in Hollywood. He rode the bus halfway across the continent to his father’s farm outside East St. Louis. His father told him he could do nothing for him except offer his love. “The rest of it you got to do for yourself.” Davis did. He moved into a two-room apartment on the second floor of the family guest house and locked the door. For seven days, as the craving for drugs raged, he neither ate nor drank, shivering with cold and struggling to keep from screaming with the pain that tortured his joints. Then, he remembered, “one day it was over, just like that…. I walked outside into the clean, sweet air over to my father’s house and when he saw me he had this big smile on his face and we just hugged each other and cried.”

Davis would not fully kick the habit after this instance, but it was an uplifting story amidst clouds of despair. In it, I saw parallels to the Christian life, though the correspondence does breakdown at some point, especially when considering the self-willed approach of Davis as opposed to the Spirit-empowered, community-focused sanctification of Scripture. But I can’t get over that picture of Davis emerging from the shadowlands of fighting his addiction to drink deeply of the fresh farm air and freedom he now felt. And then to see the smiling face of his father, for them to embrace, and for tears of joy and exhaustion to flow uncontrollably.

It’s what the fight of faith against sin and self often feels like; that God is near and offers his love, but we are shivering and struggling until the Spirit takes control and the struggle ends for a moment. It’s how I picture saints entering the rest of eternity: staggering in, war-torn and weary, to finally breathe in paradise and weep for joy in the arms of their Father, finally free from the struggles of life and the sins that have enslaved them for so long. It makes me want to keep fighting, remaining faithful to the end, because the fight is worth the present and future smile of the Father.

Advertisements