Dear Readers and Writers,
Several months ago my wife Leslie and I made our first trip since before the pandemic to my birthplace, Kansas City. While there, we paid a visit to our friend, SuEllen Fried, who had turned 90 only weeks before. In addition to raising a happy family, SuEllen has spent her adult life in creative service: she was one of the very first dance and movement therapists in this country; has worked for decades in many prisons with incarcerated people to build their self-esteem and resiliency; has authored books and spoken nationally about bullying and worked with children and teachers in classrooms to directly address the problem; and has consistently been engaged in a range of community mental health issues.
If you google SuEllen Fried, you’ll find photos, youtube videos of her speaking about bullying, her books, her website bullysafeusa.com and a wikipedia entry, among other wonderful things by and about her.
We found SuEllen to be as wise and kind and vital as ever, despite her age and the death of her beloved husband Harvey a few years ago. She shared with us that for many years she and Harvey began every morning of their long marriage together by saying, “This day is a gift.”
Leslie and I have been married for forty seven years ourselves, and are always on the lookout for ways to nurture our relationship. We were so inspired by SuEllen’s sharing that we’ve begun each day since that visit by gazing deeply into each other’s eyes and also saying, “This day is a gift.” It’s a beautiful way to enter the day, an affirmation and an invitation to open our hearts and minds.
If I can acknowledge this day as a gift, I am likely to be more able to see whatever happens in the course of the day as part of that gift, however challenging it may be. In honor of SuEllen and her elder wisdom I am calling my letters to you during this coming year of our Poetry of Nature writing group “Giftings.”
One of the things I find most energizing and revelatory about the creative process is the experience of spontaneously receiving a phrase or image or theme that carries genuine power and promise. Most of my songs and poems begin from such an experience, which I call “a given.” When such a given surfaces in my consciousness, I take it as a gift and a prompt. In order to be faithful to that vivid momentary prompting, rather than ignoring and forgetting it, I get to work and follow it where it leads.
I have experienced such givens in the course of resting in meditative states, while attuning to different aspects of nature, in the trance-like hypnagogic and hypnopompic states between waking and sleeping and sleeping and waking, and in dreams. In my letters to you this year, I’ll share some of the songs and poems that have come from such effortless bestowals, in hopes of encouraging you to continue to notice those moments when what might variously be called your Inner Guidance, your Wisdom Voice, your Creative Unconscious, or more classically the Spirit or the Muse, offers up direction and inspiration.
As we feed these initial inspirations with our attention and creative energy, they tend to come more often, just as when we pay attention to our dreams we often begin to remember them more and more clearly.
The price of admission is our interest and trust. When we don’t marginalize and dispense with even the most off-the-wall, apparently inconsequential image, phrase, or dream fragment, but give each such given at least a moment of attention, whether or not it seems to merit further conscious creative development, we open a channel to our individual and collective depths. Who knows what may flow from that?
Let’s find out.
With that in mind, here is the first of my own givens I will share with you this year. Take it as a possible prompt if you wish. Please receive it as my gifting to you:
The Sacred Hoop
This song was originally conceived at a multicultural gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1992. Sioux, Omaha, Athabascan and other tribal peoples were there, along with a number of white folks like me. The Indian Runners for Peace and Dignity were then walking between reservations, battlefields, and sacred sites all the way from Canada to Mexico, and they timed a visit to our campground. They bore ceremonial staffs decorated with sacred regalia given them by every tribe they’d visited.
The most magnificently decorated staff was carried by a young man who was the great-great-great-great grandson of the Lakota Sioux holy man Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950). I’m not sure I remember the number of greats!
The Runners invited us to join in a blessing ceremony. We stood silently together in a great circle as young Black Elk slowly walked around its center, carrying the staff around and around to signify the healing of the broken circle of the Sacred Hoop of the Sioux nations, praying in the spirit that Nicholas Black Elk prayed when he stood on the summit of Harney Peak in South Dakota in the summer of 1931.
The feeling in the circle deepened. A little girl across the circle from me walked over to a tall Indian runner wearing a belt with tassels of red, white, yellow and brown hanging from it. As young Black Elk continued his prayer walk, the girl began weaving these tassels into a beautiful unity.
The song was seeded in me at that moment. All I knew about it at the time was that it was to be called “The Sacred Hoop.” I heard and heeded these three words and kept this given close to my heart.
I never tried to find words or music for it, but could feel it gestating within like a featureless prayer, and seven years later it was born in about twenty minutes, as I camped by the banks of the Walnut River in south central Kansas.
Black Elk’s spiritual light has brightened many lives through the book Black Elk Speaks and others by the Nebraska poet John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) his friend and the faithful chronicler of his visionary life. I got in touch with the Neihardt family after writing this song and got permission to use the photo of Black Elk on the summit. You can see that photo at the beautiful website neihardt.com and hear the seraphic voice of John G. Neihardt recite a prayer he wrote to reflect the depth of his friend’s spirituality.
Harney Peak is the highest peak east of the Rockies in the continental U.S.. It’s the place where Black Elk flew in his spirit body when he had his first vision at the age of 9, and where he physically stood and prayed again in 1931.
Harney Peak was renamed Black Elk Peak in 2016.
You may go to my website, geoffoelsner.com, click on “Songs,” view the cover photo and title of my first CD, Morning Branches. and scroll down the list of songs just below it to “The Sacred Hoop” to hear my performance of this song:
Black Elk stood on Harney Peak and spanned the four directions.
Vision grows strong as the sight goes weak, and he could hear the least inflections
Of spirit voices on the wind, of the severed Sioux tribes, of the songs that had been.
He could see all the faces, the four races of the world, and he could sense the colors
Of their prayers that blended. He prayed, “O when will the Sacred Hoop be mended?”
O the Sacred Hoop of nations, of hands and hearts entwined,
Lies broken with the broken treaties and the ravaged tribes.
Encampments in the raging wind, their fires burning low…
O when will the Sacred Hoop be whole?
And Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl when the Nazis came to power,
And she left a legacy in ink of those tortured, stormy hours
When her people had to hide or die. She could hear the fearful boots outside.
She could see all the darkness in the human heart,
But she wrote, ‘I believe we’re good at the core,’ and ended
That the Light will overcome and the Hoop be mended.
O the Sacred Hoop of nations, of faith and hope entwined,
Lies scorched in Hitler’s ovens and scattered like twelve tribes
Converging in Jerusalem along the Wailing Wall…
O when will the Sacred Hoop be whole?
Tangled in the branches of a twisted family tree,
A child lies trembling and in tears, her abuse roots deep in the centuries
Of pain that passes down the line of generations backs in time
We’re all together on this ride, so if your feel that child inside
Please go to her she cries to be befriended,
And in this way may the Sacred Hoop be mended.
O the Sacred Hoop of families, of feelings intertwined,
Lies pulled apart in the human heart by the hurt of humankind.
Will the circle be unbroken, and can we heal the child’s soul?
When O when will the Sacred Hoop,
When O when will the Sacred Hoop be whole?
And there’s two good friends on a holy butte on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Seems we could see for a thousand miles as we pray for All Relations,
And the prayers drift ’round like eagle down to the prairies and the plains below.
We could feel the prayers of others there like a mighty tide of love and care,
Flowing like the Mystery intended,
Flowing like the Mystery intended
Toward that bright day when the Sacred Hoop is mended.
O the Sacred Hoop of red and white, of yellow and of brown,
Lies in our hands to reunite, to bind this world around.
Old Black Elk looked from then to now, and he saw our common goal:
To make our way to the joyful day when the Sacred Hoop is whole.
Please Touch the Earth with Love,