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Center for Action and Contemplation

Human Bodies: Week 1 Summary

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Human Bodies: Week 1

Summary: Sunday, April 1-Friday, April 6, 2018

I choose to believe in some kind of bodily resurrection because it localizes the Christ mystery in this material and earthly world and in our own bodies, the only world we know and the world that God created and loves. (Sunday)

This Creator of ours is patiently determined to put matter and spirit together, almost as if the one were not complete without the other. (Monday)

Our bodies are God’s dwelling place and even God’s temple (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). (Tuesday)

True spirituality is always bringing us back to the original bodily knowing that is unitive experience, which is why you cannot do it all in the head! (Wednesday)

Your mind can deceive you and put all kinds of barriers between you and your nature; but your body does not lie. —John O’Donohue (Thursday)

The problem is not that you have a body; the problem is that you think you are separate from others—and from God. And you are not! (Friday)


Practice: Drumming

Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God. —Lionel Hampton [1]

There are many forms of body prayer—for example, chant, walking meditation, dance, yoga, tai chi, pilgrimages, prayer beads, gestures, and breathing exercises. From time to time in Saturday’s “Practice” I’ll invite you into an embodied form of contemplative prayer.

Today I’d like to share with you the practice of drumming, which I have used a lot in men’s work over the years. Every human culture has developed some form of drumming, the repetition of a steady beat, to encourage and inspire what writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls “Collective Joy.” [2] While drumming often supports dancing and musical performance, it also has a long history as contemplative practice.

The mental and physical focus required to drum stills the mind and shifts the drummer’s state of consciousness. Barbara Holmes, one of our CONSPIRE 2018 presenters, writes:

There have been studies that link alpha brainwave states to drumming. The alpha state refers to a dreamlike detachment and physical relaxation. The pattern of drumbeats seems to calm and focus the mind. “When the mind fixates . . . a profound state of Silence ensues.” [3]

Silence is an odd word to use in the midst of the cacophony of many drums. Yet the stillness referenced is akin to the intense spiritual engagement that marks the contemplative experience. [4]

Native American pow-wow and shamanic traditions use relatively simple rhythms to evoke a unified state in players and listeners. For indigenous people, the drum represents the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth that inspires the community to dance, sing, socialize, heal, and honor their culture.

Throughout the continent of Africa, drumming uses complex rhythmic patterns for communication, healing, entertainment, and prayer. As ethicist Peter Paris writes:

African arts are to enhance the everyday life of the people, not primarily to change their conditions but to enable the people to see and hear and feel beauty. As long as the people enjoy beauty, they do not succumb to the tragic elements in their midst. Their spirits are uplifted, and in that way the arts preserve and promote the wellbeing of the community. [5]

Drumming helps us return to the wisdom of our natural rhythms, spontaneity, and joy. Even if you don’t think you “have rhythm,” I invite you to let go of your inhibitions, pick up an “instrument” (a pot, bucket, sticks, or a beautifully toned drum). Start with a simple rhythm and just continue the beat. Trust your body to move intuitively and playfully. Another wonderful way to drum is to join a drumming circle. There are many all over the world—look for one and don’t be shy!

Enjoy this short video from drumming teacher Christine Stevens. Christine talks about why drumming is a powerfully transformative experience for mind, body, and spirit. [6]

[1] Lionel Hampton and James Haskins, Hamp: An Autobiography (Harper Collins: 1999, ©1989), 8.

[2] See Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (Holt Paperbacks: 2007).

[3] Dorian Friedman, “Drumming to the Rhythms of Life,” U.S. News & World Report 122, no. 22 (June 9, 1997), 17.

[4] Barbara Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 40.

[5] Peter J. Paris, Virtues and Values: The African and African American Experience (Fortress Press: 2004), 47-48.

[6] Christine Stevens, Your Life on Drums, Used with permission. See also Christine Steven’s curriculum, The Healing Drum Kit (Sounds True: 2005), and her short video Drumming for Meditation,

For Further Study:
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003)

Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013)

Richard Rohr, St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CDMP3 download)

Image credit: The Banjo Lesson (detail) by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893. Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Deep knowing and presence do not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be open, awake, and present. —Richard Rohr
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