Reflection on Vespers & All That Jazz

By Anita Peebles

Every Sunday night, a special group of worshippers gathers in Wightman Chapel. Some are devoted regulars, traveling many miles to join in the sometimes contemplative, sometimes joyous jazz vespers service. Some simply step in to explore the historical chapel and find themselves intrigued by the expressive musicians playing “How Can I Keep From Singing?” and “How Firm a Foundation” with a blues twist. Some come for the silence between thoughtfully orchestrated mediations from some of the worlds’ best theologians, artists, poets, and contemplatives.

In this year of volunteer service with the Belle H. Bennett Fellowship at Scarritt Bennett, I have had the privilege of being able to worship in Wightman chapel regularly. In the winter, the warm chapel invited me into a restful break from work and cleaning on Sunday evenings. This spring, I’ve been standing at the chapel doors, welcoming people into the cool interior as the sun sets.

Tuesdays in the Chapel are a Sabbath break from the hectic week, and a chance to hear local clergy and laypeople share about how God is speaking to them in their lives as they live out a call to Christian community and social justice.

Vespers provides a contemplative alternative to the more traditional, interactive space of Tuesdays. In this space, all present are participants in a meditative yet expressive exploration of how the Spirit of God moves and speaks through musicians, the spoken word, and silence. Vespers and All That Jazz engages us in encountering the Spirit in a new and different way, through the spirit of improvisation in the music, as well as the spirit that changes how we hear Scripture and meditational texts every time they fall on our ears.

Louis Armstrong famously said, “If you ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” In a way, I feel similarly about the Spirit of God. If we try to find out the true nature of the Spirit, we will get farther and farther from understanding it. The Spirit cannot be named, pinned down, or quantified. The Spirit is God’s improvisation, finessing and flexing and fitting and forming itself to meet the needs of our hearts at any given moment, and through any given medium.

So, if you are ever walking along some lazy afternoon this summer, come visit us at Scarritt Bennett. Walk our labyrinth; sit under the shade of our hackberries and saucer magnolias; visit us in Wightman chapel any Sunday at 6:30pm. Come share in a time of silent meditation, poetic and liturgical readings, and improvisational meditational jazz worship. Come experience how the Spirit speaks to you.


Anita Peebles is a native of Michigan. As a Belle H. Bennett House Fellow, Anita works with Plant the Seed, a not-for-profit program that creates outdoor classrooms in community and school gardens to educate and empower under-resourced young people. She also works in the Education, Programs, and Connections Office with Marie developing Environmental Justice offerings at Scarritt Bennett. Anita has a B.A. in Religion and Environmental Ethics from Oberlin College and is discerning a call to ministry. She will be starting her Master of Divinity studies this fall at Vanderbilt Divinity School.