Black Elk, leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux people, used the term “the first peace” to identify a sense of connection we feel within ourselves. In his book The Sacred Pipe, dictated to American anthropologists and published in 1953, the first peace is described as:
“that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka (the Great Spirit), and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.”
Poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson published an essay titled “The Over-Soul” in 1841, describing what he understood as a “common heart”:
“within [humanity] is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One… We know that all spiritual being is in [humanity]. We lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God. Justice we see and know, Love, Freedom, Power.”
I read Black Elk a few years ago in Conflict Transformation class in seminary, and I just came across some of his writings again this week as I was looking through a collection of writings and poetry by indigenous peoples. Also this week, I found myself reading a collection of Emerson’s essays while I was sitting by the fire on a relaxing Saturday afternoon and I reached for the closest book.
These two readings offered me a good lesson — sometimes I think we’re saying the same thing, just using different language.
No doubt we speak through the lens of our experiences and so we use the language that comes most naturally to us. But language can be divisive. What I describe as “a and b” might be “x and y” to you. If we’re going to really listen and understand one another, we might need to dig a little to uncover what we’re actually trying to say.
In these times when we’re quick to identify our differences and claim our ground, may we have patience to dig and seek understanding. May we seek to realize the first peace within ourselves by opening our eyes to our common heart.
Blessings & peace to you,