Friday, December 30, 2005

December 30, 2005 about 1pm PST

Praise the New Born King, what a start to the end of this year and the start of the new one!
This morning I provided music for a gentleman who died from injuries sustained in an auto accident. I did not know him personally, nor any of his family. His last name provided a bit of a phonetic challenge, but moreso I was not sure of its ethnic origins. The celebrant, Father Vladimir, confirmed my guess that the deceased was Filipino (as is Fr. Vlad.)
The congregation was extremely small, perhaps 25 souls. It was immediately apparent to me that many of them were not English proficient, though Father conducted the ordo in English, only using Tagolog before the distribution of communion.
I decided to sing two of Rev. Ricky Manalo songs for the Introit and Offertory-"By the Waking of Our Hearts" and "Many and Great."
The liturgical celebration of this man's life was austere and brief, but a spiritual and mystical reminder to this native Californian, white and of Scots ancestry, that despite the ruminations of all stripes of malcontents and naysayers, America still is a dream, perhaps even a sacred and divine dream that will survive if those aspects are kept alive and burning.
Coming back to my office in the Parish Center I then happened upon a couple of hundred Hmong who were assembling at a gradual and easy pace to begin their tribal New Year's celebrations. I hustled to grab my camera and asked one of their young leaders if my presence would be welcome. He and nearly everyone else around had already assented by their smiles evident on their faces and in their eyes.
Dressed in their native garb, ornate and spectral in all hues and colors, many of the men had a sort of pan flute where bamboo shoots were cut in various lengths and with one end of each "pipe" inserted into a gourd. There were pitch holes seemingly cut randomly in each pipe and on the bottom of the gourd. But unlike a pan flute, the sonority was more like English horns that when blown sounded like harmonicas playing in seconds. The pitch combinations were manipulated to coincide with a clear pattern of dance steps and postures around a faux palm tree that was adorned with hundreds of rice cakes. More and more dancers slowly and regularly joined the circle, enlarging the diameter. I asked my young leader "friend" if the sequence of dances and tunes were planned. They are, he explained, a way of offering up simple thanks to God for the blessings of food, shelter and opportunity that their particular community has received during the past year and in anticipation of the next.
I have to confess a certain envy when in the midst of such situations. When and where did we fail to graft and craft our spiritual beliefs and customs into the public witness of the "American" community. I'm no socialist by any stretch, but it was perhaps, during the 19th century when the industrial interests communed with the growing large retail commerce and figured out how to capitalize upon "Holy Days" and we've moved ever so relentlessly towards the abrogation of that meaning into "holidays" which are now the undisputed province of commerce and consumerism.
We are always at some sort of crossroads, but where we stand doesn't provide us a vantage to see how the fabric of time will be woven. But those of us who would deny entry to the new wave of immigrants for various valid legal and economic reasons also deny the American Dream.
Rice cakes, cacaphony of native flutes, and the smiles of new generations of Hmong and LaHu dancing around a tree in a gymnasium while cans of Coke and Sprite await their leisure- these are a few of my favorite things.