Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Knowledge of the Divine . . . With Our Muscles

Within just a few days' distance from each other, I have or will have participated in the following:

A Winter Solstice ritual which began with a single chant for the returning sun while the chant leader walked slowly around the circle and a drum kept the beat. The chant leader circled the gathered community 9 times in total. By the time she was finished, we were all in an altered state.

A Druid Grove ceremony where Druids circled silently the altar nine times, and a Tibetan bell sounded each time they made a full perambulation. This is how they set the space for their ritual and moved from ordinary to extraordinary time and space.

A communal Kwanzaa service which includes no less than 7 African-American spirituals, a drumming ceremony, and a libation cermony.

These all have something in common. They require bodies. They emerge from and tap into the physicality of the participants. They require muscle!

I am currently reading Matthew Fox's newest book: The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. Fox quotes Aldous Huxley: “Ritual dances provide a religious experience. That seems more satisfying and convincing than any other . . . It is with their muscles that humans more easily obtain knowledge of the divine.”

When I read this a few days ago, it reminded me of why I so often resonate deeply with African-American gospel music, with drumming, with rhythmic music, and how sadly devoid most “very white” religious services are of this kind of experience. We need to feel the divine with our muscles!

When I say "very white" religious services, I am referring to my own experiences in mainline Protestant and Catholic liturgies, primarily. Western cultural forms based on northern European customs emerging from the Industrial age have brought us to a place where feeling the entire body, moving to a beat (even very traditional religious hymnody has a beat) and being moved by the beat have been banished and shamed out of existence as "inappropriate" at best, and "lude" at worst. That Industrial Revolution, as Robert Blye and others have described, succeeded in separating Europeans and later Americans from the rhythms of their own ethnic culturas: from the seasons of the earth, from the song and story that stretched back into time eternal. And, in my opinion, the blessings of modernity also succeeded in separating us from our bodies and their sensations as a regular part of who we are and how we relate to our whole universe of experience. Those of us following Earth-mystery paths are, I think, attempting to reclaim some of these things. In the process, though, we cannot help but notice how difficult ingrained patterns are to shake. We must, if we are to be healthy and whole, I think, find our bodies, find our muscles, find our rhythms again.

When we banish the feeling in our bodies, the inclination with in all of us to tap our feet, move our hips, sway, bob our heads, tap our fingers, clap our hands, bounce on our feet and in our knees, swing our arms when we hear a beat or feel a rhythm or allow the sound and the wonder of music to move through us, I agree with Huxley--we also banish the experience of the divine as well.



lancemfoster said...

hi Bob, I wondered how you were doing these days :-)

One thing, I think you meant "lewd" rather than "lude."

Diane Vera said...

Don't blame the Industrial Revolution for the characteristics of what you call "very white" religious services. The medieval Catholic Mass did not, as a general rule, involve dancing or drumming either.

Bob Patrick said...

Does this imply, Diane, that you think that the medieval Catholic mass was not very white?