While in high school, music was a big part of my life. I was in concert band, pep band, and marching band as well as concert choir and I sang at church. I almost certainly would have been even worse at math than I already am (and have always been) were it not for music. I remember once, my choir teacher Mr. Kennedy, telling the class that the most perfect instrument in all of the world is the human voice. It’s really true.
This time of year is the one time of the year when the majority of the music to cross my mind or lips is from sheet music. The rest of the year I’ll hear songs at the gym or on the radio or on the rare chance that I have my violin out to practice, I’ll sight read some lines then – but this time of year, every year, I read from a stolen book of hymns. I thieved the hymnal from the church that kicked me out for being gay. To be clear, I had already taken the book of songs home to practice my “Christian kirtan” before I was tossed out and simply didn’t return it after the ugliness that occurred when they learned I am gay. So, every Yule season (or, for me, a prolonged Diwali season) I pull the book from my home library and send up a form of musical prayer – usually when I find myself with some alone time in the evening before bed. The a cappella noise I make comes from a place so deep within my heart that going through a few Christmas hymns suffices as puja for that evening. (I still meditate, though, after singing.)
One song that always resonates with me is “Little Drummer Boy.” I’m sure the “pa rum pum pum pums” annoy most people, but there’s so much more to that song and I hope to share some of my interpretation with you here in this post. I’m certain you haven’t thought of the song in this way before. So the sake of keeping this as short as possible, I’ll go through the verses while omitting “pa rum pum pum pum.” Keep that in mind as you continue reading.
“Come they told me” … “A new born king to see” … “Our finest gifts we bring” … “To lay before the king” … “So to honor him – When we come” – This is religion. Pure and simple. “They” told me to come see something they already had knowledge of – the new born king. This is the essence of all religious function: To pass along a higher experience so that others can have the same experience. The mention of bringing the finest gifts to offer to the king reminds me of dressing nice on Sundays to go to church. It’s so sad that today we seem to have lost the realization that WE are the offering and gift. When you dress nice on Sunday to go to church or temple or wherever, it’s not because God will be offended that you would have worn jeans or shorts and it’s not really so that you can impress others in your religious community. You’re dressing up the best offering that could possibly be made to whatever your idea of The One is – yourself. There is no better or purer offering.
“Little baby” … “I am a poor boy, too” … “I have no gift to bring” … “That’s fit to give our king” … “Shall I play for you” – This is precisely what I mentioned when I opened this post. There should be the understanding deep within that I could wear the finest clothes to temple or put the biggest check in the hundi (or offering plate, what have you) and none of that is actually a gift to god. None of it. Those things only matter to the humans seeing the clothing or counting the zeros on the check. None of that helps god. None of that pleases god. None of that matters to god. And please know that none of it is expected by god. None of it. None of it. None of it. God sees right through those suits and dresses or kurtas and saris – directly into the core of your being, into your heart. Instead, we should “play” for god – we should give the music of the soul – ourselves. This is why I sing the songs that sit deepest inside my heart.
“Mary nodded” … “The ox and lamb kept time” … “I played my drum for him” … “I played my best for him” – When you offer the song of your heart, instead of your fancy suit, all of nature will not only listen but will sing with you. Mary, often called the Mother of God, nodded – you have divinity’s audience! The ox and lamb kept time – all parts of the world of phenomenon will assist you and join in. The rest is simply a matter of giving your best and most sincere. Some of us might play drums. Some others might play the flute. Irrelevant. You oughtn’t worry about someone else’s offering or how they offer. Give what is yours to give and give it all – play what is natural and flows naturally from your heart.
“Then he smiled at me” … “Me and my drum” … “Come they told me” … “A new born king to see” – The smile mentioned here is not god favoring you or even just blessing you. The smile is the light found within yourself when you realize that the “offerer,” the act of offering, the offering itself, the process of the offering being received, and the receiver are not distinct at all. You and your offering are the path meant for you and nothing is sweeter or more beautiful.
Below is a video of a version of the song this post has been about. Listen to it, and contemplate your own offering and what that means to you. If you feel inclined, leave a comment or contact me directly and share!
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti