top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureMr. B

"Words That Come Before All Else" ... Transcript!

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Robert Blecher

February, 2022



Welcome to “Beauty & Mr. B.” I’m Mr. B! I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what might be of value for me, and for you, as we embark upon the year 2022. (I would have posted this episode last month, in January, but Mrs. B and I both started the year with Covid!) This past year was an especially difficult one for so many of the people I know, with many feeling isolated, alone, separated from others, living within the unjust constraints of institutional systems that, at best, seem unable despite good intentions to right the ship of society, and, at worst, don’t seem to care all that much about what’s best for the mass of humanity. Where does all this leave us, as we think about how we might approach this new year? Well, that’s what I was wondering when a thought dawned on me: Rather than focus on what I lack, on what I want but don’t have, on everything that’s wrong in the world (a lot!), perhaps I might instead call to mind all that, in fact, I do have, … everything that, unasked, life continues to provide. Today I’d like to share one worthwhile source I ran across in my search to remember all the precious gifts that we receive, every day, each moment – right now -- in this life. In this episode, I will recite on our behalf the Thanksgiving Address of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. As I understand it, these indigenous peoples stand and offer the following words of gratitude whenever and wherever they gather, no matter how many or how few may be present … before anything else is done. These, therefore, have come to be known as the “Words That Come Before All Else.”


“Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.


Everyone, in Unison: Now our minds are one.


We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect.


Everyone: Now our minds are one.


We give thanks to all of the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, for providing strength and nurturing life for all beings. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans, snow and ice. We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation. Can we agree that water is important to our lives and bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to the Water?


Yes, Everyone: Now our minds are one.


We turn our thoughts to all of the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that they continue to do their duties and we send to the Fish our greetings and our thanks.


Now our minds are one.


Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.


Now our minds are one.


When we look about us, we see that the berries are still here, providing us with delicious foods. The leader of the berries is the strawberry, the first to ripen in the spring. Can we agree that we are grateful that the berries are with us in the world and send our thanksgiving, love, and respect to the berries?


Now our minds are one.


With one mind, we honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden, especially the Three Sisters who feed the people with such abundance. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them as well. We gather together in our minds all the plant foods and send them a greeting and thanks.


Now our minds are one.


Now we turn to the Medicine Herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are so happy that there are still among us those precious few who remember how to use the plants for healing. With one mind, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect to the Medicines and the keepers of the Medicines.


Now our minds are one.


Standing around us we see all the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who each have their own instructions and uses. Some provide shelter and shade, others fruit and beauty and many useful gifts. The Maple is the leader of the trees, to recognize its gift of sugar when the People need it most. Many peoples of the world recognize a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind we greet and thank the Tree life.


Now our minds are one.


We gather our minds together to send our greetings and thanks to all the beautiful animal life of the world, who walk about with us. They have many things to teach us as people. We are grateful that they continue to share their lives with us and hope that it will always be so. Let us put our minds together as one and send our thanks to the Animals.


Now our minds are one.


We put our minds together as one and thank all the birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them the gift of beautiful songs. Each morning they greet the day and with their songs remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader and to watch over the world. To all the Birds, from the smallest to the largest, we send our joyful greetings and thanks.


Now our minds are one.


We are thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.


Now our minds are one.


Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers the Thunder Beings live. With lightning and thundering voices they bring with them the water that renews life. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.


We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest brother the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.


Now our minds are one.


We put our minds together and give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the nighttime sky. She is the leader of women all over the world and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. Let us gather our thanks for Grandmother Moon together in a pile, layer upon layer of gratitude, and then joyfully fling that pile of thanks high into the night sky that she will know. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.


We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them at night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered as one, we send greetings and thanks to all the Stars.


Now our minds are one.


We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring Teachers.


Now our minds are one.


We now turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.


Now our minds are one.


We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it is not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.


And now our minds are one.”


Please understand, dear listeners, that the actual words of the Thanksgiving Address can vary considerably from speaker to speaker. This particular reading is from the version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, which, I understand, has been in wide publication since 1993, almost 30 years. I found the text of this meditation within an essay, “Allegiance of Gratitude” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her 2013 collection entitled, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. This whole series of essays, by the way, was well worth my time and effort.


Since I stumbled onto this essay, I’ve wondered: What is it about the “Words That Come Before All Else” that have drawn me in, toward this gratitude, and keep me coming back time and time again? Another way of framing my question might be, “What, exactly, is the beauty of these indigenous words?” I’ve opened to these questions, and, though I’m not quite sure that what I’ve received is the only possible way of knowing, an understanding has emerged: The beauty of this ‘Allegiance of Gratitude’ is that, throughout, its verses remain simple and profound. Yes, simple AND profound. Please, allow me to explain…


Let’s start with the idea of simplicity. So much of modern life is complex. It’s a style of life that, over time, seems only to become more complicated. Just consider how many things appear on your “to do” list today. The more we must do and keep on doing … just to stay afloat – right now, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, everyday – the more complex our lives become. Plus, I’m afraid that, in an age characterized by the never-ending assault upon us of digital information, what we have “to do” seems only to increase – beyond the arithmetic, into the realm of exponential. The ever-increasing quantity of demands on our time, attention, and energy means -- for each of us -- that we must constantly be striving for greater and greater efficiency: We need to continually accomplish more, and more, in less and less time. This becomes the overriding objective of everything … efficiency … no matter how unrealistic, irrational, and unrealizable such a goal might in fact be. Whenever a given task requires more time than we expect or allot -- which must inevitably happen -- not only do we consider this to be a failure on our parts, but, even more, we feel more overwhelmed than ever. Now we have even less time to complete each of the too-many tasks that remain on our lists of things “to do.”


Perhaps the last thing we might call modern life would be “profound.” Quite the opposite. A better term to understand life today – defined largely in relation to efficiency – might be “shallow” or “superficial.” The more my sole and exclusive focus becomes finishing each assigned task more quickly, the less likely it will be that my life experience could fairly be described within the paradigm, “quality of life.” The less time I spend on more tasks, the more likely it will be that my life will gradually turn into one monstrous “rush” – the relentless anxiety of life centered on nothing except quantity, the production of more. Everything we do within the culture of efficiency – which today dominates the world’s corporate structures -- yes, everything, … works to lower the quality of each life experience. It’s even worse: The more efficient – meaning, successful – I become within this corporate pretense, the less (and less) my life can truly be understood in terms of quality. The short and shorter life-span of each experience -- for those “lucky” enough to “win” within this oppressive construct of “success” -- can lead only to a life that must, by definition, become more and more superficial and shallow. It seems ironic that most of the so-called “successful” people I know are usually the ones who, as a rule, have nothing truly profound to contribute.


My sense is that the complex and shallow nature of modern life is what draws me toward, and keeps me coming back to, the power of this indigenous gratitude. The sacred words of this devotion suggest a depth, width, and height of meaning that helps to deepen, widen, and elevate my being. Let me take one example, the expression of thanks to the waters of the world, which appears near the start of the “Words That Come Before All Else.” Here, in this prayer, is expressed thanks that all the waters of the world are still “meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation” … that the world’s waters are, yes, still “meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation.” I cannot speak for you, but I do know, for me, that, until I sat with these words and allowed them into my heart, I never perceived water as having responsibility -- any responsibility – obligation to anyone or anything, much less responsibility to the whole of Creation. There is something absolutely profound in this phrase, something worth sitting with, absorbing into the soul, thinking all the way through. This spiritual truth has encouraged me to consider, for one, the question of responsibility itself. Like so many of us, my life has mostly been spent in consideration of me: “How can I become free to do whatever I may want, in this moment, for myself?” This meditation on the responsibilities of water suggests that, perhaps, just maybe, I might be getting life all wrong. Perhaps I should be thinking less (and less) on me and my individual freedom – me getting what I want – and devoting more of my time, attention, and energy in consideration of what responsibilities I may have to support the life of others, what obligations I have to provide for life itself. That’s what water does, don’t you think? Unasked, water continues to support the existence and development of all life on Earth. Maybe, if I were to become less focused on what I want, and more focused -- like water -- on what I can give, … the quality of my own life would improve, dramatically. This I believe, my friends, is truly profound.


These few words, too, have been spoken with an incredibly attractive sense of simplicity. You don’t need a college degree to understand the “Words That Come Before All Else.” You don’t need to become expert (or even conversant) in philosophy, theology, or the physical sciences to decipher what is beautiful and profound in these indigenous words. You don’t need to read books, indeed, not even a single book, to access the wellspring of knowledge that rises naturally from deep within the “Thanksgiving Address.” These words are simple: “We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation.” Two phrases. One sentence. That’s it! No words that require technical training or advanced academic knowledge. Prolonged and extended attention? No, neither is required! Anyone and everyone – each of us -- have full and immediate access to all the wisdoms set forth here, octogenarians and three-year olds, women and men, grandparents, parents and children, friends and enemies, souls of every color, shape, and size, everyone … that’s one of the many powers of simplicity: I am drawn to the beauty of brevity, simplicity that does not take away from or reduce meaning, but brevity that serves, instead, to deepen and elevate our appreciation for what it means to be fully human. So much meaning is conveyed in so few words here, wisdom so wide, deep, and high that, no matter how long I may ponder on the simple beauty of this phrase about water, no matter how old and knowledgeable I may become, no matter how many college degrees I accumulate, no matter how many essays I may write or podcasts I publish, there will always be more to learn through this simplicity, because of this simplicity. The infinite meanings of these words leave me in a state of awe, kneeling at the feet of wisdom, prostrate before the seat of knowledge … as I submit unto a process of learning that will not and cannot ever end. These simple and creative words set forth instructions on how to live … bowed low in worship before the altar of truth, humbly seeking to remain, always, within an open and receptive posture of learning. Living within what is simple and profound, in submission to the very highest truths, I am certain that my soul will continue to grow. From this place I can look forward to tomorrow, knowing in my heart that there will always be more for me to learn and, perhaps, there might still be more that I can contribute to the lives of family, friends, community, and society. Living within the beauty of simplicity is, simply put, the foundation of human life that can truly become profound.


You can find the text of this “Thanksgiving Address” on my website, beautymrb.org. Please, feel free to print it, meditate upon these words, and share these profound simplicities with everyone you know. I pray that this introduction will inspire you to make this indigenous wisdom, in your own life, “Words That [Actually Do] Come Before All Else.” Until we meet again, dear brothers and sisters, my greatest hope for you is this, … Peace!



24 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 Comments


Mark Movagh
Mark Movagh
Feb 09, 2022

Hi Bob, thank you for sharing this beautiful meditation/prayer. The gratitude expressed is specific and personal. I especially love how the sun and moon and all the parts of nature are regarded as family, Mother Earth, Brother Sun. We should treat each other that way, as family. In our daily routines, we forget that all things are connected. This is a beautiful reminder of that.

Like
Mr. B
Mr. B
Feb 09, 2022
Replying to

Thank you for commenting, Mark. Your insights are very much appreciated…

Like
bottom of page