The Hebrews danced to the emphatic beating of the drums across the Red Sea, leaving behind the brickyards forever. They sang “The horse and rider YHWH has thrown into the sea!” as they moved beyond the reach of their taskmasters. Moses led the liberation parade as Miriam played her tambourine along the edge accompanied by a band of women. What a sight for sore, slave-weary eyes.
I played a tambourine when I was young. It was small, made of chestnut colored wood and shiny with shellac. The guitar players would let me shake my tiny tambourine along the periphery of the circle. The tinny sound blended well enough I suppose. My part may have been ancillary to the work of worship, but I savored every song.
I fancied myself a modern Miriam swaying on the sidelines.
Years later I would hear the sky crack open as a Burundian drummers beat their massive drums in practiced unison with intricate rhythms and ground-shaking energy. I’d never felt anything like it – the cadence traveling through the soil, through the souls of my feet, recalibrating my own heartbeat. I couldn’t stand still. Dancing was instinctive.
I feel most Burundian when I hear those drums; they remind me that some part of me belongs to this place. The steady, strong pounding of those drums under the gold sun unleash what binds me and for the duration of the drumming I am undeniably free.
So when I learned that Miriam carried a drum, not a tambourine, it made perfect and prophetic sense to me. The mention of a tambourine was an anachronistic mistake in translation, as all evidence in art and archeology shows that women drummed. The women were the trained musicians, skilled and strong with stamina to hold a rhythm all the way across the Red Sea. They composed the victory songs; they were the communal catalyst at the center of the procession out of captivity and into freedom.
Now more than ever I want to follow in Miriam’s footsteps.