THE FIRST PEACE, and the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers. And that in the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
These few dozen words, ￼from the great Lakota teacher Black Elk, which I committed to memory years ago, are among the most clear and beautiful descriptions of spirituality I have ever found. Along with his explication of the sacred pipe in Black Elk Speaks, they paint a realistic yet poetic picture of a world of inter-relationships and inter-being. Of meaning and of mystery. For, as Black Elk says, “It is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things, for these are children of one mother, and their father is one spirit.”
There is no catechism in these words, no dogma, no rules and no exclusion. There is simply acknowledgment of an observable reality, should one take the trouble to look beyond culture and beyond ego. And if the words ‘spirit’ or ‘spiritual’ should give pause, note that in many translations and teachings, this term is perhaps better and more accurately transcribed as mystery. As in the Great Mystery.
Within that word, and the acknowledgement of oneness and inter-being, lies a great humility, a great truth, and a great insight. That our existence is framed, undergirded and over-arched by mystery—despite all our reductionist, determinative efforts to explain all, understand all, know all, and even own all. We stand on a slim shoreline of knowledge washed by a great sea of mystery. And our planet, abused and exploited as if it were here only for us, floats upon that sea.
There are many maps and pathways out of our ecological and social crisis. Wisdom from many ages, many traditions and many cultures. Taoism, Buddhism, Indigenous, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Muslim, Pantheist, Atheist, Agnostic, and purely Scientific. But all have one thing in common. Every path requires honesty and humility. What Black Elk would have called walking the good, Red Road. They require that we see ourselves as part of a greater whole. And knowing that it is the story of that whole—of all life—“that is holy and is good to tell.”
Let us hope that someday we can walk a good path and tell a good story.