Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy —Myself—
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
Someone recently sent me an Hopi prayer and I was taken with its wisdom and posted it yesterday. That prayer and this one today reflects a sensitivity to nature that I greatly admire. The Native Americans saw the unity of man and nature, not having been taught the Western subject-object distinction to the same degree that we European “invaders” had been.
And I really appreciated the insight into the “real” enemy—“myself.” This reflects the “discerning spirit” spoken of in the New Testament. Emily Dickinson described the absence of this quality as “the mind too near itself to see itself distinctly.” That “discerning spirit” is often missing in our culture, leaving us without “self” awareness.
These two Native American poems emphasis of nature makes me think of a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry. A friend of mine last spring, who was dying at the time, asked me to define grace for him. I paused only briefly before telling him, “Let me quote you a poem by Wendell Berry.” Here it is:
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
My friend was greatly comforted by this poem, immediately agreeing, “Yes, this is about grace, the same grace offered by Jesus.” The beautiful phrase, “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their thoughts with forethought of grief” often comforts me when I’m stressed, bringing to mind the words of Jesus, “Let not your heart be worried. Ye believe in God, believe also in me.”