The River in a Drum

“River come, take us in, we need to swim in you. River come, call our names, we need to be in your arms again.” - River Song

I wrote this song last summer, as I was accompanying an Indigenous Elder, Grandmother Carol, on a Water Walk along the Howsatunnuck (Housatonic) River. We walked near to the river every day for a month. The rhythm of the river became our rhythm. My partner observed that when she returned to the walk after a couple days away she felt like the river greeted her. Walking the river was ceremony. It was full-body immersion in the rhythm, strength, stories, pain, generosity and love of the river. River Song came out of the quality of attention to and presence with the river I felt as we walked the ceremony, and from the gratitude for and call of the love that was found there.

We had been in ceremony all day. The Indigenous Peoples March was ceremony. This is important to understand as you watch and read about the events between the Covington Catholic boys, the Black Israelites and Omaha nation elder Nathan Phillips. The indigenous people gathered there had invoked the ancestors, had greeted the four directions, had smudged the sacred ground and people, had been drumming and moving and speaking all day as ceremony.

One of Sunday’s lectionary texts is 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind,” it reads, “love never ends.”

Love grows inside of ceremony. I am learning this, maybe being reminded of it, from time spent among indigenous people. I am grateful for their generosity in sharing their ceremony, for welcoming my participation, and for offering ceremony on behalf of all creation. Love grows inside of ceremony; a love that is patient and kind and as strong and generous as a river.

Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips was carrying the river in his drum. He was carrying loving prayer. He was carrying the healing gifts that come from being immersed in ceremony. This is important. He did not move out of ego and certainly not out of aggression. With the drum and his body, he was bringing the ceremony as an offering, as healing prayer. For me, when I see the image of Nathan Phillips with the drum and Nick Sandmann in his face, what I see is him offering Sandmann and the whole group of boys there the love that grows in ceremony; a love that is patient and kind and as strong and generous as a river.

Nathan Phillips has offered to meet with the Covington Catholic teens. This generosity speaks to the strength of the love in the ceremony Phillips is a part of.

To be clear, native ceremony belongs to natives; it does not belong to us non-natives and is not ours to appropriate. But we can participate in ceremony when they invite our participation. And we can be recipients of the strong love that grows in it and which is offered on behalf of all creation. Furthermore, we can use our privilege as non-natives, and especially white non-natives, to advocate for the rights of native people to their ceremony, to land, water - to their lives.

(Originally published in CTUCC lectionary reflection).

Lindsey Peterson