25 October 2010

Spiritual Halloween-this Friday the 29th

Dear Drummers,

I think Friday will be an amazing evening. Ten of us are making ancestor spirit masks for our Spiritual Halloween extravaganza, Friday the 29th. I’m making several masks so that if you are someone who wants to dance a mask as a gift to the community gathered and to the ancestors, you can.

The intention of Friday is to offer you a way to honor, listen to or heal your ancestors. Like all of our drumming and ceremonial work, you are totally free to enter into this any way you want: with as much heartfelt faith, agnostic curiosity, or restrained skepticism as you wish. You can view it as Halloween theatre or as ancient ceremony, whichever works for you. If you want to, and you really do not have to, bring a spirit mask or costume for the first part of the evening – some mask that you feel honors the unseen world. If you want to, and you don’t have to, bring some kind of offering for your ancestors for the second part of the evening: anything biodegradable works.

We are making the masks from papier-mâché (French for “chewed up paper”). It’s making me wonderfully aware of the presence of layers in our life – life is really made up of chewed up layers that sink into the earth of our being, to be covered over by the next layer. The face you see is made not only of the visible, most recent layer, but all the layers at once. This is what makes it strong and able to move about in this world. The ancestors are buried in our lower layers, our DNA, our shadowed consciousness, our sinews; they are mostly unseen, hardly felt, but present.

I try not to ponder too much about what happens to us after we die, but one irrational, improvable thing I believe is this: at the moment of death we understand just how little we ever understood about this world and about the Holy. We realize how much inane jabbering we have done during life. We realize the stupidity of the judgment and degradation we spouted at each other, and the ridiculousness of how hard we tried to make others obey our inner story. It is this message that I hear from the ancestors all the time: don’t worry about what God looks like, just learn to give love and receive love, right here, right now. Heal one another’s pain, hold each other’s hand, be present for each other, urge each other to move past fear, and don’t worry about making others act, look and behave like you. When I talk about honoring the ancestors, I’m talking less about honoring their specific acts in life, but honoring the life force that they carried – sometimes gracefully, often clumsily, sometimes tragically – while they were human. We all carry this life force with us and pass it along to one another, gracefully and lovingly, or covered in curses – not only to children but to everyone we meet. Sometimes the ancestors, having been through this life already, can help us spot and remove the curses placed on our life force. Sometimes we can spot them and in removing them from us, we remove them from the family line, even moving backwards. Yes, indeed, that’s crazy irrational.

In papier-mâché, you tear pieces of paper, wet them with an oozy glue, and attach them, overlapping, rubbing, blending them into the previous piece. You find that it is the torn, frayed edges that do the best work of bonding invisibly with the face you are making. A straight, hard edge shows up on the mask’s face as visible scar. There is a lesson to be learned from this about allowing our hard edges to be softened by the world, and a lesson in how our suffering can bind us to one another.

It feels good to be still and listen to the ancestors. It helps me put my life into wider and deeper context. Each one of them carried disappointment, frustration, and anger at the unfairness of life and love. Each bore fears of illness and death, and negotiated mightily with the obligation to others versus the obligation to their own soul. Each wondered if this was all there is. And each marveled at something and tried to understand things. Each wanted more than anything to give and receive love. I’m sure of this, and I’m sure that each one failed in some ways and triumphed in others.

With all of this in mind, we dedicate this Friday to the ancestors.

Yours in reverent Wahoo,


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