The Great Spirit is in all things, he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us….
Prayer of Big Thunder (Bedagi) a member of the Wabanaki Alonquin First People
People should not live separated from Nature. There is a life force in nature which many First People called the Great Spirit. The life force exists within all living things. It is this great spirit that I speak to when I approached the magnificent eagle which includes my beach in its territory. The beach eagle symbolizes the great ancestral force of life that connects humanity to the natural world. In the mythology of many Native American tribes, since the eagle flies the highest, it travels between the physical and spiritual worlds and is a messenger to the Great Spirit. This eagle is a very personal symbol to me. And as such, it is sacred to me. I always approach with reverence and respect.
After my father died, I could not return home for his funeral because of the pandemic. I performed my own funeral rights, alone, far from birth family. The day he died I went to the ocean and spoke to his spirit. In the past, I have always thought of my father when I visited the ocean. The first time he took me to see the ocean he told me, “A man with a good boat could go anywhere in the world, if he lives by the ocean.” During World War Two, Pop’s plane had to fly over hundreds of miles of open ocean and lived on dangerous islands. In a moment of stark reality, he said he found peace with his potential death, in that unlike fighting on land, “…if we went down, the ocean cleared away everything.” And he bequeathed that indomitable spirit to me.
I live in America’s Pacific Northwest Coast. Like many tribes, the Native Americans of this area revered the eagle. The northern states area still retains the wide-open-spaces feel of the American Frontier. This is a land of powerful shamanistic beliefs. Coastal people believed the journey to the land of the dead took several days. And during my father’s journey to the afterlife, this eagle appeared on the day of his funeral. On the day he died, a hawk came to the beach. People had often described my Dad’s distinctive nose as a hawk-nose. The technical term is “aquiline” – eagle-like. A few days later the eagle appeared the day of my father’s funeral. It watched me as I built a small cairn of stones near the incoming tide. I prayed my father’s soul would find the peace he was denied in life. A shadow passed in front of me, as the tide toppled the stones. I looked up to see this great spirit soaring out over the open water. To indigenous people, the appearance of an eagle during prayers means the prayers were answered. That thought, more than anything, healed the wound to my heart left by father’s passing.
Before his eyesight and arthritic hands failed him, my father used to carve elaborate peace pipes. He studied the beliefs of the indigenous people of North America, especially the Plains Indians. My Dad could recount nearly verbatim stories from his large collection of history books. Pop was raised a Protestant and attended a religious high school. My family lineage includes many preachers, prophets and, if you go back far enough, saints. He told me the native peoples’ beliefs were born from their living close to nature. The stories differed from group to group, but overall the Great Spirit was the universal spiritual force watching over all life. We are part of nature and nature is part of us.
The Lakota people call the divine, or sacredness, residing in everything – Wakan Tanka (Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka ). Every living thing and every object has Wakan – sacred. Tanka – could be translated asGreat. The great activist Russell Means said the term should be translated as “Great Mystery”. And it is the spirit of the Great Mystery that watches over me as I enter the place where the natural and spiritual realms intersect. The word mystery originated in the terms for mystical truth and hidden spiritual significance. My encounters with the beach eagle connect my spirit to my father who dwells in the Home of the Great Spirit. May the Great Spirit watch over you.
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
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.
Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
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.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
— Chief Yellow Lark