Playing Jazz with God

jazz saxophone musicians - photo via Pixnio

The art of discernment can be compared to playing jazz, which is an adventurous form of music. In jazz, the musicians play a standard melody, and then they improvise. The piano player may start playing, but then the others join in: for example, the drummer, bass player, saxophonist. While the song begins with the familiar melody, it evolves as the other musicians change the chords and keys. For this to work, the musicians need to really pay attention to one another. What is remarkable about jazz is that no two performances are the same, unlike classical music, where musicians play the notes on the page with little noticeable difference from one performance to another. Jazz performances vary because improvisation is at the heart of jazz, the musicians playing off one another. An accomplished jazz musician has done his or her own hard work, which makes it possible to improvise with skill. At the same time, the musician has learned how to allow the music to evolve within the community of players.

I think that is how God works with us. Discernment is how we improvise with God and others. We do not follow unalterable sheet music or a script but play jazz with God. God provides a standard melody, and then we join in, with our talents, dreams, and desires. We improvise with what God has given us. For Christians, that means “riffing” on Jesus: embodying his values and way of living and loving, in the unique context of our particular lives. We listen to the music of the Spirit in our life, and we listen to what others are playing, and then we play: we choose, we act. God listens to our music, which is sometimes perfectly in tune, other times a little off key. Regardless, God works with us and plays some more, with new chords and keys, enlivening the familiar melody. And then we listen more and play again.

—Excerpted from Seeing with the Heart by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

Photo on Pixnio.


  1. This opens up exciting possibilities, having the basic tune, but using our skills or love or hard work, etc, to balance a “project”, God has in his will. Willing to Be part of that project, sometimes even unknowingly until later, brings connectedness to God and all who he touches… what a blessing..


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