Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bringing Our Gifts: Symbols of 'The Little Drummer Boy'

An image from the popular television show The Little Drummer Boy.
Anywhere you go from now until about January 2, the carols of Christmas are officially playing, and one of those we often hear is The Little Drummer Boy. This past Sunday was Commitment Sunday, the day of the year when we examine our gifts, talents and resources to discern what we should do for God's glory, and giving to help others. My gifted priest, Father Adam, passionately persuaded us that regardless of what our gift be--whether great or small--it came from God and to God we should give the glory for it through the same gift(s), talent(s) and resources because, when we stand in judgment before Him, He will demand an accounting of what we did with those gifts, and He expects us to say, "I used the gifts you gave me to glorify You."
Michelangelo did a number of Pietas during his long life, but this, his first and best known, will be the subject of my upcoming post.
This is my gift, the ability to interact and understand art and, hopefully, help others to increase their engagement with art as well. So, in the next week, I will be posting on Michelangelo's Pieta, Mary holding the dead body of Christ after the Crucifixion. I have dedicated this blog and every post to the glory of Jesus Christ all ready, however, I attend the Cathedral for my diocese, and we recently acquired an exact replica of Michelangelo's inspired sculpture. One of the staff at the Cathedral, having no idea about my background in Art History, saw me passing by and asked, "Do you know anything about this?" and so, for the next thirty minutes, he received an unsolicited education in Renaissance art and Michelangelo. There have been countless pilgrims to the Cathedral to see the new art work and no means by which to guide them on how to interact with it or strategies for interpreting what Michelangelo was communicating. Now, this is the important thing, and this is why I'm mentioning this, for you and for me: it's likely that the stewardship committee will reject my blog post to distribute as an aide for viewers of the Pieta. Why?
Because God is generous.
This is a good time to review the concept of "destiny" in Christianity. Winston Churchill, one of my very favorite people, did not have the destiny of destroying Hitler, or for conquering socialism and standing up, virtually alone, to face the German threat until America got its rear in gear; none of that was Churchill's destiny, rather, his destiny was to exercise and fulfill his full potential for courage, wisdom, patience, conviction, strength and perserverance; once he achieved the total compacity which God blessed him with for these virtues, then Churchill could become God's instrument in overcoming the evils besetting the world. Hitler didn't fulfill any of his destiny, rather, he insisted on the state of Germany fulfilling its destiny, but because Hitler didn't do the necessary spiritual work within himself first, he couldn't be a guide to Germany along the correct pathway, instead, leading Germany and its people down the path of destruction which he followed himself, too. It's very easy, we have two choices: there is heaven, and there is hell. Which do you want to spend eternity in? 
God generously bestows humiliation, poverty, loneliness, barrenness, misunderstanding and a great multitude of other experiences and conditions that we don't want to experience, but which prove they are the only means of becoming better, stronger, wiser and more courageous people; in other words, suffering is the means by which we advance in holiness, and because holiness is the only pursuit with which we should be concerned--since anything else will end we die, but our holiness is that which we stand with us before God--He generously provides hardships by means of which we can advance and attain to eternal, blessed life. It is likely the stewardship committee will not accept my humble offering because God wants to give me the gift of barrenness as part of His generosity in helping me to grow, because barrenness will help me to become a better Christian, and that may be more important than my humble little essay on a work of art helping viewers become "better" viewers. 😇 I say this in hopes that it will fortify you to make offerings of your gifts and skills, your blessings and talents, so that the rejection or lack of gratitude which you may encounter will not discourage you from making the offering again in the future, but you will, instead, meditate upon what God is giving you in thanksgiving (yes, you read that correctly) for you offering your gifts back to Him for His glory, because He wants to share His glory with you.

Having significantly digressed, even for me, let us now consider today's topic at hand; there are two gifts which the Drummer Boy makes to Christ, and which we are called to make as well:
The first line of the song, "Come, they told me," establishes the evangelism taking place: a group of people--the Three Kings, according to the tradition of the story--are on their way to see the newborn king, and they are spreading the message, the Good News, just as the angels will do with the shepherds in the fields. The opening line invokes the words of Psalm 122: "I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord,'" for how much more rejoicing that this small boy should go see the Lord Himself? But this is the important command: Come. Remember, the Three Kings tell Herod about the birth of the Christ, but Herod doesn't go, he just wants to be told, but to the young boy, they say, "Come," because the invitation is not only an invitation to see the Lord for himself, but to understand why the Three Kings are going there: salvation. Likewise, it's not enough for us to just tell others about Christ; that's good and holy, but like the Three Kings, we need to offer others to "come" and see for themselves, too. Yes, we probably will be rejected by most, but that is not for us to decide; if the Three Kings had not told the Drummer Boy to come with them, we would not have his story, and even if it's not the Lord's will that someone come to Him, we can offer up the experience of our rejection in union with the rejection He has experienced. How do we know this? Because of the next line: "Pa-rum pum pum pum."
There is no age given for the Three Kings, or Wise Men, which ever title you prefer, but we know they are adults, and their adulthood is juxtaposed against the youth of the Little Drummer Boy. Why? Anyone can encounter Christ at any age. It doesn't matter what age you are, you are meant to let Him enter your life, and you are meant to seek Him out, There is also the dichotomy between the wisdom of the three men, and the youth or innocence of the little boy: wisdom differs from knowledge in that knowledge pertains to the truths of  nature and this world, but wisdom reveals truth  which is above nature and is of the next world, the eternal world. Knowledge takes years to acquire and the maturity of advanced age to grasp, but wisdom requires only an open heart to accept because wisdom is always a gift from God. Wisdom feeds and sustains us in holiness, and holiness is the only currency for purchasing eternal life, the reason each of us exists. There is also the issue of the difference of class between the Three Kings and the Drummer Boy: obviously the Three Kings are wealthy, as judging by their gifts, and the Drummer Boy poor, but Jesus has rewarded them each--not by the greatness of the gift they give Him--but by the love with which the gift is given. The disparity in social status and wealth between the Three Kings and Drummer Boy mirrors Christ's own circumstances: the King of Kings who became the poorest of the poor.
When I was a first year literary theory student, my professor used the example of the "nonsense language" in the song Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, which gets repeated throughout the song. When it came out, older people would sigh and express discouragement over the poor quality of the lyrics, yet the "words that didn't mean anything" were being used to express the language of love, which exists beyond language. We can say the same for the lyrics, Pa-rum pum pum pum which occur throughout The Little Drummer Boy: music is its own type of language, and the language of music is the language of Divine Love, which is why both Psalms 95 and 98 commend the faithful to go with a song in their heart, singing praise to God. These lyrics of seeming nonsense then (Pa-rum pum pum pum) actually communicate to the listener how the Holy Spirit enters and moves in the heart of the Little Drummer Boy. But the Little Drummer Boy's heart also becomes the drum of the Holy Spirit, for the heart beat is like the drum upon which the Holy Spirit sets our rhythm for life and worship.So each time we hear the refrain (which is at the end of nearly every line of lyrics) the emphasis is being placed on elements of the moment which cannot be articulated, which music alone can express, but must be expressed just the same.
"Our newborn king to see," contains a triple importance: the Messiah, the Christ, was specifically "for" the Jewish people, yet these Magi from the East use the pronoun "Our" because they know, in their wisdom, that the arrival of such a king as this cannot be just for one people alone when the whole world groaned and longed for a savior; the Three Kings know that Jesus has come for them, too, and for all, even though nothing has been said about this as of yet. Secondly, this is a king "to see," He won't be up in yonder tall tower, He be on a tall throne or private room, He will be there for all to see, and all are to come and see Him where He is. 
"Our finest gifts we bring," the Three Kings sing, and we know the gifts to be gold, frankincense and myrrh: gold, because it is the most precious metal on earth, and it is what one gives a king; frankincense because it is burned as a pleasing sacrifice to God and, myrrh because, it is the most expensive ointment and the most bitter: it foreshadows the wisdom Jesus will accumulate as He grows on earth, but also the bitter price He will pay for it, and His bitter Passion. Most people all ready know this, but now we need to ask, why juxtapose a drum against these three gifts? A drum is used to summon an army and to help lead an attack, so what is a king without an army? This is, of course, about spiritual warfare, that the Little Drummer Boy is now enlisted in Christ's army to fight off the temptations of the world and the flesh, exactly why Christ came into the world, to teach us how to defeat the devil and how to gain for ourselves eternal life.
Why are the ox and lamb mentioned in The Little Drummer Boy, and specifically that they "kept time" with the beat of the drumming? The ox symbolizes Christ and the work Christ will do up to the Passion (the Apostle Luke is often associated with the ox, again, because each of us have a work to do in life, just as Jesus did (both as a carpenter--i.e., our "day jobs" and as the Messiah, the spiritual work we are each also called to do) and the ox symbolizes that hard, worldly work we are bound to do for our sustenance. The lamb, of course, is the sacrifice of Christ, but also the sacrifice each of us make, according to our calling in life and what God wants us to give back to Him in exchange for the gifts He has bestowed and those He still wants to bestow. 
The Drummer Boy responds that he has no gift, but he offers to play his drum; this is the first gift he gives. Honestly, the drum is an instrument that makes noise, especially when there is no other music; then again, if you took the drums out of most music, it wouldn't be even close to the same. That the drum is so closely associated with noise highlights for us all of our gifts: that instead of being gifts, they can become destructive or unwanted, unless we discipline ourselves and apply wisdom in how best to use our gifts: for God's glory. When "He smiled at me, me and my drum," we know this is a blessing: that both have been consecrated to God and both are going to be blessed abundantly to help in bringing more souls to eternal life because the gift has been given back to God, and then given back to the Drummer Boy because now, he knows what his gift means.
What about the second gift the Drummer Boy makes? His presence. He came to see Jesus and he stays with the Holy Family in the poor manger, in the cold and uncomfortable surroundings with the animals. Jesus makes a gift of His presence to us in the Holy Eucharist: do we make our presence a present to Him? Do we go and be with Him the way He wants us to be with Him? Maybe we have no gift to bring, but we have ourselves, and that is really what God asks from us more than anything, is that we love ourselves as much as He loves us. This Advent, ask God for the gift of proper self-love, that you can recognize your gifts, talents and purpose, and how best to use them for His glory and your own eternal salvation.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner