March 24, 2006

So I played for him

Spirituality By Terry Taylor,Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pumA new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pumOur finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pumTo lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,When we come.Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pumI am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pumI have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pumThat’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,On my drum?Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pumThe ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pumI played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pumI played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pumMe and my drum. I remember the exact moment when my spirituality was born.  It was a few days before Christmas in 1958. I was 7 years old and in the second grade. School was out for the winter holiday. I was at my Aunt Helen’s house in Griffith, Ind., and I was walking through the kitchen when I heard a song playing on the radio. I stopped to listen. What I heard was the newly released Christmas carol, “The Little Drummer Boy.” It grabbed my attention immediately, not only because of its haunting melody but also because it told the story of someone who was just like me: poor and seemingly unacceptable. The reason I was at my Aunt Helen’s house that Christmas was that my mother and I had literally been put out on the street by the sheriff a few months earlier, and we had no other place to go. Aunt Helen had a husband and three kids but grudgingly agreed to take us in. I lived and played with my three cousins in the main part of the house. At night I slept in the unfinished and unheated basement. Before I heard “The Little Drummer Boy,” I had had a few brief introductions to the world of religion. I knew how to say grace. I knew my, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” bedtime ritual. And when I was 5, I had gone to Latin Mass at a Catholic church with a kindergarten classmate, but of course had no idea what was going on.  And while I was living at Aunt Helen’s, I joined my cousins for Sunday School at a Baptist church. The only thing I remember from Sunday School that year was the teacher trying to demonstrate the gift of “God’s grace” by pulling me up in front of the class and giving me a shiny blue fountain pen. Of course, I had no idea what grace was. I suspect that I came away with nothing more than a growing lust for shiny objects. But the Drummer Boy reached me where I lived. It said to me that God or whatever was transcendent in the universe and cared about everyone — especially about those who had nothing to bring as a gift. I didn’t even have a drum to play, but I knew that my smile at the radio as it played this powerful song traveled on and somehow reached the God who was the God of everyone. “The Little Drummer Boy” is still my favorite Christmas carol, but I think of it these days as much more than a song that belongs to Christians. It is a song for folks of all ages and all religions who can’t afford to buy a gift to say happy birthday to God. It is a song for those poor folks who still manage to drum out a welcome to the God who breaks into the physical universe with a gift of compassion and solidarity with the poor.Terry Taylor is the executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace. Contact him at