23 April 2008

Dear Drummers,

(My apologies in advance for the length of this post. The word "bloviator" floats around me constantly, to my utter dismay. However, I do provide you with a warning of when the great wind begins to blow harshly below...) And now the post:

It’s said that the Celts divided the year into two halves, summer and winter or light and dark halves. I like to think of it as the earth singing a yearly melody, with very early spring (Imbolc/Brigit’s day/February) as the inhale and late autumn as the exhale, winter solstice as the end of the silence between breaths, and the time we are in now – spring into summer as the sung melody.

There is a Gaelic phrase: Oran Mor: the Great Song sung by the created universe. And Oran Croi: the small song sung by each creature, each creature with its own part of the great melody. The swelling of the buds, the emergence of the scarlet tulips and cerulean Siberian Squill, the ecstatic, sunburst of Forsythia , the flutter of small wings in the arbor vitae, the humans hammering something in the back yard – all of these are parts of this year’s great melody, which is but one small part of the long song of the earth, which is but a tiny part of the song of the Milky Way which is only a fragment of the Oran Mor: the song sung by the Life Force.

Now Earth swells with life force. Maybe you feel this song in your body as I do this week, as heart-filling joy, as awe-struck wonder, as relief from the long winter, as primal desire, as a desire to create. I feel the Oran Mor as a song of desire – desire in all of its emotional notes: ecstatic pleasure, deep yearning, trembling physicality, heartbreak, loss. These are the notes of the great song of the universe, and in our own Oran Croi sung throughout our lives. There is a majestic, terrible sweetness for those of us experiencing loss right now as so much around us swells with fullness, color, and pleasure.

Bloviation alert: The next three paragraphs! Bloviation alert: The next four paragraphs!

It seems to me that all spirituality is about the Life Force, and every spiritual system is, at its root, about identifying what the life force is, how it acts, and most importantly how we may live in alignment with it.

Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher (c. 500 BCE) is credited with being the first to widely use the word logos to describe the active, rational organizing force of the cosmos. (Cosmos – the organized universe, is the result of the action of logos). Logos can mean speech, or word, because it presumes that to use language, one must be rational, creative and organized. This is how Christianity appropriated the term in the Gospel of John (“The Word was made flesh”). This use of logos ties the appearance of Jesus to the first chapter of Genesis, where God speaks the universe into existence (“God said ‘ Let there be’”…).

The Greek philosophers, and later the Christian Europeans, really wanted God to be entirely rational. Perhaps the toughest tension in the Christian tradition has been trying to hold together the idea of the Creator as rational (and therefore not emotional) which was inherited from the Greeks, and the Creator as emotional, which was inherited from the Hebrews. Uncountable gallons of ink have been spilled by theologians trying to work their away around this tension. And uncountable rounds of ammunition have been spent taking down people who were comfortable with the idea of the life force not being entirely rational.

And it seems that the answer to this tension is always the same whether we are speaking of God, or the Tao, or Dharma, or astrophysics: The One, the source, the Creator, the Monad, is organized and calm, and rational (or beyond concepts of reason which I think is still a rational framing of it). But Creation falls away from this rational source and becomes increasingly irrational. So we find ourselves in an irrational Created place, a place of matter which cannot really be touched by God. When certain religious people remind us to “worship the creator and not the creation” this is what they mean – admire the exuberance of the spring time flowers but remember that God is not exuberant or scarlet. And God cannot touch matter. This was one of the ideas from the ancient Greeks slipped into western Christianity, an idea which I find bizarre. A reminder: whenever a human being uses the word “God” and the word “cannot” in the same sentence, beware. Isn’t God the most profound expression of “can do”?


It’s taken me a long time, far too much reading, and too many hours staring into the glittering flashes of light on the summer-glinting skin of lakes to come to believe what probably many of you have known all along: the Life Force is not entirely rational. It’s beyond reason and refuses to be locked into reason. The Life Force is the greatest improviser we can imagine. The universe is much more like a drum jam than like a classical symphony. A little guidance, but mostly freedom to explore and create vastly multi - layered sounds within sounds within sounds. The life force operates on the sheer audacity of desire. It cares only to bloom and to reproduce and everything else is idle chit chat. Maybe you can feel that force now in this time of rising sun and singing blooms and primal desire.

I’ve been thinking hard for many days, wondering what a small-minded person like me could possibly say about the Life Force. Then I got an email today from American Pie (PIE for Public Information on the Environment) http://www.americanpie.org/index.html and their communications person said it better than I can:

"With so many Earth Day messages aimed at saving the planet, it’s well to remember that the Earth doesn’t need to be saved by us. We couldn’t destroy it if we tried; we have, however, given our best effort to do so. What we need to save is an Earthly environment as we like it, with its climate, air, water and biomass all in that destructible balance that best supports life as we’ve come to know it. Destroy the balance, and Earth will simply shake us off - like flotsam and jetsam - as it has shaken off countless species before us. In the end, then, it’s us we’re trying to save...not the planet."

I would add that it’s us, and the innumerable species we have come to love, who share the planet with us, that we are trying to save. We know we cannot stave off all extinction, for extinction too is one phrase in the great song. But we want to be less directly responsible for out-shouting so many of our living relatives’ melodies.

So, how do we align ourselves with this kind of unimaginable, singing, organizing force of the universe?

Here is my cryptic answer, with a minor bloviator alert: the irrational is tied to the creative and the rational is tied to the practical. When your universe is founded on the rational, you focus your creativity on producing practical things, in other words manufacturing things that make your life more practically comfortable, like toasters and drive through car washes and I-pod docking stations with wireless speakers. Manufacturing is all about transforming physical resources into other kinds of physical objects. This is the path of the industrial West: creativity applied to manufacturing ever more practical, physical objects.

But when your organizing life force is not entirely rational – and perhaps only barely rational - you focus your creative forces to producing things of passing beauty more than practicality. To me, it is not a mistake, not a coincidence that the culture that is so dedicated to a rational creator also has the most unhinged desire for manufactured goods and also has the most twisted idea of what art is (separate, rare, elitist, and only validated by the exchange of large sums of money). True beauty uses fewer physical resources than manufacturing practical goods. I suspect that if we are to survive as a species, if we are to re-balance our earthly environment that we love and that supports us, we will do so by aligning ourselves with the irrational god who has a greater desire for beauty than for the next better toaster.

When we drum together, we praise this God of improvisational beauty who lives in us and around us and in and around everything.

I leave you with a song I wrote for my son a few years ago:

There once was a lad name of wee Lukie
People thought him a might kooky.
In the evening he’d pick up his crumpet and tea
And amble down to the twi-lit sea.

He’d look to the north and around to the south
Thrust out his arms and spin slow roundabout.
Then hoist his crumpet and hoist up his tea
To the fiery sun kissing the glistening sea.

He’d say: “Thanks be to the One and to the Three
Who come to enfold and mystify me.”
Then he’d close his eyes and open his mouth
And that’s when wee Lukie’s song would slip out:

Chorus:
Oran Croi Oran Croi
Oran Croi Oran Croi
May my wee song bring pleasure to thee
Powers of grace and mystery.

He’d eat up his crumpet and drink up his tea
All the while gazing out o’er the darkening sea
The sky so black, the earth so green
And so much unseen living in between.

Oran Croi Oran Croi
Oran Croi Oran Croi
May my wee song bring pleasure to thee
Powers of grace and mystery.

He’d set awhile longer humming his wee melody
With the stars so silver and sea so shimmery.
Then he’d amble back home to his little stone house
And slip into bed quiet as a brown mouse

Now sleep comes ‘round, and he begins to drowse.
He thinks he hears humming coming from a million mouths.
Animals and stars and fish and birds and trees—
Each and every living thing humming their Oran Croi.

Oran Croi Oran Croi
Oran Croi Oran Croi
May my wee song bring pleasure to thee
Powers of grace and mystery. [1]

[1] © 2006 Jaime Meyer. Pronounced “Orun Cree,” Gaelic for “the small song that is part of the great song.”

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