Yesterday I attended a Pow Wow. For those who have never been to such an event, it is marvelous opportunity to experience something of the spiritual, cultural, and artistic lives of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Many things struck me as memorable: the sacred fire at the east inviting all to make a prayer with a pinch of tobacco; the swirling colours as dancers drew us into the dream of living in vital harmony; the honour accorded elders; the joy – shining in faces of young and old; and feathers, beautiful feathers drawing my mind on high. But one thing stuck out for me above all else: an announcement.
At the beginning of the Pow Wow, after the prayer to the Great Spirit, and the Grand Entrance, it was announced that a dear elder from the Six Nations of the Grand River had died, and so an honour dance was to be performed to help her on her way. Alongside of this was what usually accompanies honour songs: the request for all to stand, for men to remove their hats, and the prohibition of photo or videos. This latter struck me as especially significant. In our world where video and audio record our every thought, our every choice, our every experience, and so define our very existence, here I divined something different. Memory was loosed from technology. What do I remember from this unrecorded moment? I remember the drum, beating in a way that was not so much heard as felt; an invitation to have my heart beat in harmony with the Creator and all who held this moment as hallow. I remember Margaret, a friend and colleague of mine whom I bumped into at this Pow Wow, who thought that this was a healing moment for not only those mourning the recently departed, but all who dealt with any manner of loss. I remember the dancers spinning, feathers seeming to sustain them as they spun a prayer of thanks for an elder who was remembered in hugs that filtered throughout the community. I remember the smell of sweet-grass smoke, wafting with memories and hopes for a future lived with integrity with those who prepared our way but have passed on to another way.
I am no Luddite: I am not against technology. Sometimes I delight in what it makes possible. But every now and then we live into the moment in an altogether different way when we set down our stuff. We discover that much is to be gained from calling upon our senses to capture – not everything – but what most matters: a drum strung taut, singing the woes and the wonders of a world that can only be hinted at with words as paltry as these.