Some prayers pour from our mouths unrehearsed while others provide a structure to fit ourself inside of and learn from. Some, through language we are unaccustomed to, provide a pathway to see ourselves, our world, and God a little differently.

Today, I share a prayer from Black Elk, also known as Hehaka Sapa and Nicholas Black Elk, of the Lakota Oglala band. Black Elk, who lived from December 1, 1863 – August 19, 1950, experienced powerful visions throughout his life and lived out those visions as a healer, a Catholic teacher, and a revivalist of Indigenous traditions. He found common ground between all three roles, not contradiction.

As you pray this prayer, let the words and the images they evoke in you take you to each part of creation as it is mentioned. Let the prayer guide you in gratitude and supplication to be a better relative to the rest of the earth. Let the words help you to see your relationship to the Creator and the rest of creation in a different way than you might be accustomed to. May the words refresh your perspective on God and his relationship to the world, including yourself. Pray through the prayer slowly, perhaps aloud, through song or chant.

Fiery grass against a blue sky
Photo by Casey Lee / Unsplash

Hey hey! hey hey! hey hey! hey hey!

Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always,
and before you no one has been.
There is no other one to pray to but you.
You yourself, everything that you see, everything has been made by you.
The star nations all over the universe you have finished.
The four quarters of the earth you have finished.
The day, and in that day, everything you have finished.

Grandfather, Great Spirit, lean close to the earth
that you may hear the voice I send.
You towards where the sun goes down, behold me:
Thunder Beings, behold me!
You where the White Giant lives in power, behold me!
You where the sun shines continually,
whence come the day-break star and the day, behold me!
You where the summer lives, behold me!
You in the depths of the heavens, an eagle of power, behold!
And you, Mother Earth, the only Mother,
you who have shown mercy to your children!

Hear me, four quarters of the world – a relative I am!
Give me strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is!
Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you.
With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather,
all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike.
With tenderness have these come up out of the ground.
Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms,
that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

This is my prayer: hear me!
The voice I have sent is weak, yet with earnestness I have sent it,
Hear me! It is finished.
Hetchetu aloh!

by Black Elk from Black Elk Speaks by J.G. Neihardt

In the first section of this prayer, there is an acknowledgement of the Creator's place of preeminence as well as gratitude for the creation that has been made. Is there anything that you might add to this list as part of creation that the Creator has finished? I find the practice of expressing gratitude for events of the past day a very helpful practice. As I am lying in bed, I make a mental list of things within the day that I am grateful for. I find this helps me to see the day more clearly in retrospect and with more gratitude.

In the second part of this prayer, the speaker invites an encounter between himself and the rest of creation. Do you have rituals to greet the morning or say farewell to the day that in some way shape your perception of your presence within the rest of creation?

The third section voices powerful supplications—that the speaker would be given strength to "walk softly" and be a "relative to all that is." This concept of relatedness is central to the prayer and to Lakota tradition, "as important as the word 'amen' is in Christianity." [1] We are all related, coming from the same source and thus owe every creature respect and should approach each being with reverence—all the many peoples, four-legged creatures, flying creatures, the land, water, and sky. We are all related. Look around you and name what you see as a relative, rather than as an "thing." How does this affect your presence in the world? Does it make you feel less alone?

In the fourth section, the prayer looks outward, praying for the other living things. The words, "that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet," is a beautiful prayer you may want to sit with for a while. Think about other creatures and how they "face the winds." Think of their struggles and pray for their well-being. As you pray, pray as you would for an aunt, a brother, or a cousin—for a relation.

Are your prayers earnest? If not, find a prayer you can honestly pray and pray that prayer. If you do not know the weakness of your voice, pray that you might recognize that as well. When praying, humility is a good place to finish. With that in mind, end your prayer in humility and gratitude.


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You can learn more about Black Elk through various websites. The book, Black Elk Speaks can be read online or ordered here.

[1]Beacom, Nathan. The Lakota Holy Man Black Elk’s Vision for Peace on Earth. October 12, 2020

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