A God in Favor of Drums
in appreciation of Professor Abraham Adzenyah who has been teaching
West African drumming at Wesleyan University for almost five decades
In Addition to Faith, Hope and Charity
by Pattiann Rogers
I'm sure there's a god
in favor of drums. Consider their pervasiveness - the thump,
thump and slide of waves
on a stretched hide of beach,
the rising beat and slap of their crests against shore
baffles, the rapping of otters
cracking mollusks with stones,
woodpeckers beak-banging, the beaver's
whack of his tail-paddle, the ape
playing the bam of his own chest,
the million tickering rolls of rain
off the flat-leaves and razor-rims of the forest.
And we know the noise
of our own inventions-snare and kettle,
bongo, conga, big bass, toy tin,
timbals, tambourine, tom-tom.
But the heart must be the most
pervasive drum of all. Imagine
hearing all together every tinny
snare of every heartbeat
in every jumping mouse and harvest
mouse, sagebrush vole and least
shrew living across the prairie;
and add to that cacophony the individual
staccato tickings inside all gnatcatchers,
kingbirds, kestrels, rock doves, pine
warblers crossing, criss-crossing
each other in the sky, the sound
of their beatings overlapping
with the singular hammerings
of the hearts of cougar, coyote,
weasel, badger, pronghorn, the ponderous
bass of the black bear; and on deserts too,
all the knackings, the flutterings
inside wart snakes, whiptails, racers
and sidewinders, earless lizards, cactus
owls; plus the clamors undersea, slow
booming in the breasts of beluga
and bowhead, uniform rappings
in a passing school of cod or bib,
the thidderings of bat rays and needlefish.
Imagine the earth carrying this continuous
din, this multifarious festival of pulsing
thuds, stutters and drummings, wheeling
on and on across the universe.
This must be proof of a power existing
somewhere definitely in favor
of such a racket
Professor Abraham Adzenyah:
A God in Favor of Drums
Singing and Clapping
It is easy to romanticize "spirituality" as if it is all about faith, hope and charity. Christian theologians sometimes speak as if the Soul of the universe -- God -- is exclusively preoccupied with ethical virtues such as these. To be sure, these are important virtues; and life falls apart without them. Still, it seems to me God is more than a cosmic moralist. God wants us to be fully alive, and aliveness is more than faith, hope, and charity. It is the enjoyment of harmonious intensity, of full aliveness, for its own sake, while alone and in community with others. The enjoyment of harmonious intensity gives pleasure to the one who enjoys it and also to God, who feels the feelings of all living beings. God loves a good time.
At least this is how process theologians, influenced by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, see things. We believe that the Spirit of the universe -- God -- is present within the whole of creation as an indwelling lure to create and enjoy harmonious intensity. The woodpecker enjoys intensity while banging his beak; the beaver while whacking her tail-paddle; and we humans while clapping our hands and making noise with our own inventions: bongos and tambourines. We feel alive when we drum, and happily so.
From a Whiteheadian perspective, then, spirituality is the enjoyment of harmonious intensity, or full aliveness. It takes many forms, as exemplified in the Whiteheadian wheel of life offered below, which identifies eighteen forms of spirituality, one of which is awakening to creative intensity. Drumming is an occasion for this kind of awakening. In this respect it is a spiritual practice in its own right.
Of course drumming is also a form of communication for those with ears to hear. The rhythms speak to pulsations within the heart of the universe, the closest of which is our own heartbeat; and when we hear the rhythms we understand these pulsations musically. Indeed, our capacity to listen to the communication of drums, to hear the rhythms and tones, is a form of intelligence no less wise than verbal-linguistic intelligence or logical- mathematical intelligence. When joined with dancing (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) the wisdom becomes all the richer.
If truth has anything to do with re-presenting the nature of the universe within our own minds and bodies, then drumming and dancing are forms of representational wisdom. We don't speak the truth, we drum it and dance it. Our theology is in the dancing.
Moreover, when done with others, drumming is also a form of community-development. Consider the book Let Your Voice Be Heard!: "This lively collection includes 19 game songs, story songs, and richly textured multipart songs from the vocal traditions of the Akan people of Ghana and the Shona of Zimbabwe. These vibrant songs and stories stress the importance of active, responsible participation in society. Full, exuberant participation is also the norm in African music-making, where everyone is invited to take part in creating a unified voice that resonates with the spirit of community."
Imagine, then, that the universe is embraced by a Soul who is more than everything added together, but who is present within the whole of creation as a lure toward intensity, community, and wisdom. Wouldn't this Soul take rather great delight in drumming? Not drumming for war but rather drumming for beloved community in which all voices are heard and no one left behind. If the calling of our time is for the creation of beloved communities that are hospitable habitats for all, other creatures included, don't we need a whole lot of drumming, all of which, in its own way, would be pleasurable for the deep Listener?
Fortunately, there's a great deal of pleasure in the Soul of the universe, given the thumping and thwacking and rattling of creation. As Pattian Rogers says: "This must be proof of a power existing somewhere definitely in favor of such a racket." Our task as humans is to join the racket with our own rhythms, to which we humbly add faith, hope, and charity.