Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sacred Games

My music room at school used to be the chapel in a Baptist church. I like to think it still is the sacred center of school life. For almost 40 years, I’ve kept up some preachin’ and prayin’ in there, but mostly we’ve taken a different route to the Spirit: children’s games. Clapping plays, hand jive, ring plays, you name it, we’ve played it. The playing alone is enough, but I always add another layer of spiritual instruction, moral instruction, life lessons. Or rather reveal the layers already there.

Feeling a little sick in the head? Listen to Old Man Mosie’s doctor and “do the hokey pokey and get out of town!” Feeling disappointed in life and negative about things? Boom chick a boom your way to “Uh huh! Oh yeah! All right! Once more!” Stuck in a bad relationship? Sip some lemonade and then “kick your boyfriend out of town.”

And then a few levels deeper in. Carrying the burden of shame and guilt for the sins of your Ancestors? Go sit down in a saucer with Little Sally Walker, “ cryin’ and a’weepin’ over all she has done” and then “rise, Sally, rise, wipe those cryin’ eyes.” Or want to feel yet more profoundly the presence of loved ones now gone? Just go way down yonder in the brickyard and “Remember me” while you “step it, step it, step it down.” Need a reminder that you are worthy of love? Off you go into “as I look into your eyes, I behold with sweet surprise, there is somebody waiting for me.” You get the idea.

A game for every occasion, a therapy for every ill. The words remind and inspire, but more importantly, the message comes through the nerves, muscles, sinews of the body carried on the breath of song in company with a partner and partners. The Spirit awakens through boisterous play, raucous laughter, solemn tones. Not just reading words in a book or listening to the minister, but playing, singing, dancing the message so you get the word’s meanings, but also the body’s meaning, the heart’s meaning and sometimes the Soul’s meaning.

We began the Jazz Course with So Glad I’m Here and ended with one of my all-time favorite games, Little Johnny Brown. Ah, now there’s a game with multiple messages.

Little Johnny Brown, lay your comfort down…

 The player goes into the middle of the circle and lays out a scarf, representing a comforter. Like Linus, we all need our security blanket, but the game says that the circle of community is our security blanket and we no longer need the symbolic one.

Fold up the corner, Johnny Brown…

Make an effort here and do it neatly. Make your bed to start the day with some semblance of order. Art as the way to take the rumpled blankets of our dreamlife and put them into some kind of coherent expression.

Show us your motion, Johnny Brown…
 In my four-word music class mission statement, “Blend in. Stand out,” this is the standing out part. Show us who you are, what your particular motion is, how you think and live and love and move differently from anyone else because each of us is unique.

We can do the motion, Johnny Brown…

 And we’ll mirror it back to you, amplified manifold, so you can see your own beauty that you offered to the community given back by the community.

 Lope like a buzzard, Johnny Brown…

 I usually skip this one, but I shouldn’t. The buzzard feeds on the dead and so do we. We’re here by the grace of their efforts and our job is to keep their work moving forward, to eat their accomplishment that become an indelible part of us.

Take it to your friend now, Johnny Brown…

You’ve had your moment to shine, now blend back into the group, sing and dance with strength and conviction to help inspire the next player to be their whole self now that they’re in the middle. It’s not about the celebrity or superstar showing off in the middle of the ring, it’s about every person getting a chance to show how they can contribute. Nobody’s judging the motions or putting them in a hierarchy. Just be honest, be sincere, show us how you feel and who you are in the moment.

We’ve tried our hand at all the “ism” religions and from my point of view, it’s not going so well. So what about The Church of Sacred Games? Well, no need to invent it, since it already exists under the name “Orff Course,” where every day is Sunday.

Speaking of which, on to the next one! Carmel Valley, here I come!

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