Painting Without Lyrics

A visual artist friend in Atlanta once told me, "Creating abstract art is like writing a song without any lyrics." That analogy clicked for me as a musician. When I first started playing guitar I would practice scales everyday for hours. As my proficiency developed a bit, I would record a rhythm part on a tape recorder, then play that back while I practiced scales and lead guitar over it. That was technology in the 80s!

Over the years I've developed much more as a songwriter than a lead guitar player; however, from time to time I still love to lay down a rhythm track, play it back and just let the tape roll as I play licks and leads over it. Today, my technology is a little more sophisticated, but the pure pleasure of simply playing is the same. As I paint without lyrics, my favorite brush has always been a Fender Strat and my medium of choice has always been the bluesy palette of the pentatonic scale. Playing in such a way has always been a very satisfying and cathartic way of expressing myself.

About a month ago I woke up thinking about a somewhat obscure, yet profound phrase in the Bible. It is found near the end of the Apostle Paul's second letter to young Timothy. Paul, while awaiting execution in a Roman prison, is sort of "wrapping up." He is handing over the mantle of leadership to Timothy and is writing what will be some of his final words. Paul is suffering. The harsh realities of winter, loneliness, and death are apparent:

Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.    - 2 Timothy 4:9-13

Right in the middle of this text, five haunting words stand out...

"Only Luke is with me."

Luke, the "beloved doctor" (Colossians 4:14) and one of Paul's faithful "co-workers" (Philemon 1:24) stayed by his friend's side. I love Luke. 

Through his heart and voice as a writer, Luke has endeared himself to me for a number of reasons. I love the way he emphasizes the outcasts of society: shepherds, Samaritans, women, Gentiles, and the poor. I love the fact that Luke's Gospel contains so much music and singing. In Luke's account the coming of Christ and salvation is set against the soundtrack of Mary's song, Zechariah's song, and a host of angels singing. Thirdly, I love the fact that Luke places the ascension of Christ at the very center of his two-volume work (Luke-Acts) and emphasizes the present ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Finally, I love Luke's details. We know that Luke interviewed eyewitnesses. I like to imagine Luke having a conversation with Mary as she shared how she and Joseph lost the young Jesus! She never forgot that story. After describing the story of Jesus' birth Luke shares the warm and intimate detail of how Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

Another detail is found about midway through the book of Acts. Using a subtle, yet clever literary device, Luke announces his arrival in the narrative by shifting his point of view from third person (he, she, they) to first person plural (we). In the text below notice how the point of view changes in Acts 16:10 and then continues in the first person plural.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.
Personally, I think that once Luke joined the gospel adventure with Paul he remained close by his side until the two found themselves alone together in a cold, lonely Roman prison. Luke was a faithful friend and travel companion throughout Paul's last ministry journeys.

Paul never lost hope. Though he knew his death was near, he knew he had fought the good fight. He knew he had finished the race and had remained faithful. And yet, there is sorrow and lamentation in his voice. He is still a human being after all. 

When I picked up my guitar about a month ago I wanted to try and capture the "emotional space" between two friends, Paul and Luke. I tried to imagine the coldness and the loneliness of that Roman prison. As a musician I wanted to "paint without lyrics" and express the pathos behind the five words, "Only Luke is with me." 

And to be fair I was expressing a bit of lamentation of my own. The most natural way for me to capture all of this was through a blues improvisation in Am. So, I simply plugged in and let the tape roll.


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