Sunday, September 18, 2011


During North American Indian Days everyone in Browning can feel as much as hear the big pow-wow drums over at the campgrounds.  Through the year at every honoring or funeral mass or major announcement a “rawhide band” of three or four hand-drummers may assemble to herald, accompany and dedicate what’s happening.  But this is the first time I’ve heard of “walking drummers” visiting every neighborhood in town to bless and smudge.  We certainly need it now that so much happens so quickly, much of it terrifying and disheartening.  Sometimes the good things (incoming money) are as dangerous as the bad things (incoming drugs).   Here’s the URL if you want to read the story and look at the photos.
The drummers pictured in the Glacier Reporter included Shawn Bird Rattler, Wade Running Crane, Larry and Rich Ground.  They are defining themselves as “Crazy Dog Society” which is an ancient group whose charge was to protect the community, doing whatever it takes.  It’s about service to others, whether as warriors or as singers or even something more practical, like distributing food.  This impulse is strong among the Blackfeet or they wouldn’t be here anymore.
Yesterday’s blog post was looking at the bad, the “Confession of Sins,” so today I look at the good, “The Assurance of Pardon.”  They should be read together as a way of stretching consciousness from doom to hope.  
I like drumming because it is music and because it is simple.  One does not need some hundred dollar painted artifact suitable for hanging on the wall.  A stick, a finger hitting a table, a foot kicking a box -- rhythm is everywhere, rhythm is life.  The mother’s heartbeat is joined by the heartbeat of her embryo.  Light is rhythm; the colors are the songs.  Scientists tell us that instruments can detect the ringing of the earth, a long very low resonance, an immense gong.
When times get desperate, new heartbeats form, new ideas.  The internet is an instrument for detecting ideas.  Try the video below.  It is about people who take their violin bows out to play the barbed wire fences in fields or alongside prisons.  Or who translate the northern lights and seismic rumbles into symphonies.  They expand their own perceptions to find order and creation everywhere.
Here’s the description of the accompanying website:   "The Reach Of Resonance" is a meditation on the meaning of music, which juxtaposes the diverse creative paths of four musicians using music to cultivate a deeper understanding of the world around them. Among them are Miya Masaoka using music to interact with insects and plants; Jon Rose, utilizing a violin bow to turn fences into musical instruments in conflict zones ranging from the Australian outback to Palestine; John Luther Adams translating the geophysical phenomena of Alaska into music; and Bob Ostertag, who explores global socio-political issues through processes as diverse as transcribing a riot into a string quartet, and creating live cinema with garbage.   At this location are links to longer videos and more ideas and images.  There are two basic principles I see right off: there is always music hidden in both noise and silence, waiting to be called out; and humans are instruments who can expand their awareness even as they “play.”  (A word to consider carefully, take significantly but not seriously.)
I subscribe to several NPR summaries, but esp. the pop stuff I just wave on by.  This “big bird” song made me stop and listen.  It comes in part from ideas like “reaching for resonance.” ft=3&f=4703895&sc=nl&cc=sod-20110916   I guess I listened to it because I expected a Scots pipe band (drums and drones).  It’s totally unique but a concatenation of elements.
I’ve been discussing the elements of liturgy.  Here in this blog post I’ve stacked up enough elements for a liturgy (same root word as ligature) to bind together into an event of some kind.  Call it worship if you want to, but you don’t need God.  Think about my five steps: entering over the threshold, confronting evil, naming hope, exploring a concept (“God is a gong?”), and returning back over the threshold to the world.  How you combine these elements or others you might find is up to you.  Think about the rhythm of the sequence between one thing and the next.  Get clear in your mind where the people are and how to draw them along.
Then pick up your drum and walk.  Sing.  Invite others.  Enter the liminal neighborhood.  Will you walk alone?  Will you be a group?  Will you lead the people over the threshold or let them hear you approach and enter?  Will you ask them to sing oh-oh-oh?  Will you strike a gong?  Make a smudge to carry?  Should the people kneel with heads down low, hands at the backs of necks as though a grizzly might come along?   (It might.)  When you get to the center, will you dance, lifting your knees and flinging your arms like David dancing before the altar?  These things are so old, so child-like, so surprising.
My friend Leland Ground, brother to Larry and Rick, was in the original seventh grade class I taught in 1961.  We’re much changed, but there’s still a connection between us and he drops by now and then.  Earlier in his life, he was an evangelist far to the north and he’s still a dedicated Christian without feeling any contradiction with other religious modes.  When he comes to see me, he asks whether I believe in God.  I always tell him I do not, because I don’t want any anthropomorphic authority standing over me.  I believe in holiness and right behavior in order to stay in harmony (rhythm) with the world.  He accepts my answer.  
Then months later he will ask me again, hopefully,  “Do you believe in God?”  And I say,  “Define the concept.”  God would be flattered by Leland’s definition, but I still don’t believe in “Him.”  Leland is able to accept my account of the immanence of the Sacred, but I am unable to accept his approval of hierarchy.  We can walk together.  Leland is an excellent drummer.  That’s enough for me.  He wants more.  He still hopes I will begin to believe in God.  I honor his life.  I honor all life.  Just not God.  Go look at those vids of Siberian shamans Anonymous posted in comments a couple of days ago. 
Oh-oh-oh!   I’ve got bagpipe music in my head, not from a recording, but from a Highland Games when I was a teenager.  It was in some forested park and the bagpipers were wandering among the trees while they practiced.  Some were near and some were far.  None were playing the same tune.  All were walking.  Oh-oh-oh!  

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

No longer for ears...: sound
which, like a deeper ear,
hears us, who only seem
to be hearing. Reversal of spaces.
Projection of innermost worlds
into the Open..., temple
before their birth, solution
saturated with gods
that are almost insoluble...: Gong!

Sum of all silence, which
acknowledges itself to itself,
thunderous turning-within
of what is struck dumb in itself,
duration pressed from time passing,
star re-liquefied...: Gong!

You whom one never forgets,
who gave birth to herself in loss,
festival no longer grasped,
wine on invisible lips,
storm in the pillar that upholds,
wanderer's plunge on the path,
our treason, to everything...: Gong!

—Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Stephen Mitchell)