Some Thoughts On Giving Thanks

By John Kahionhes Fadden

 This article appeared in Akwesasne Notes New Series Vol. 2 #1 Winter 1996. Reprinted with permission.

 "We are somewhere between the ant and the mountain", to quote Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons. We human beings are cradled in the balance between the mountains and that ant. We are in the small part between the soil of the Earth and the stars above. All of us are made from the same cosmic dust and all of it is related.

When someone gives something of beauty such as a masterfully crafted, colorfully beaded, and comfortably fitted pair of moccasins...we are grateful for the gift. We acknowledge the obvious creative skill, we take good care of the gift, and we give a heartfelt thanks to the gift giving maker. If this gift is taken for granted it will be abused through carelessness, it will be damaged to the point of lost beauty, and it may become lost forever. The same is true of the natural gifts that give us life, beauty, and comfort.

The nature of our substance demands water, shelter, and food for continued existence. These elements are gathered from other forms that surround us, and in that gathering we are thankful. We could not survive without them. Our obligation to acknowledge those things that sustain us is coupled with the need to avoid consuming everything at once. Much should be left for tomorrow and for the many tomorrow's beyond our great-grand children.

Each year has predictable seasons from which sustenance is gathered. The wakening of the maple tree in the spring is the Earth's first gift after winter's dominating cold sleep here in the northeast. Strawberries in early summer and blueberries alter in the summer are time released for our consumption and continued existence, not to mention the excellent taste. The fruits of cultivated fields and those growing naturally in the meadows and forests are predictably available and offer nutrition and medicine. The animals, fish and birds also have their time and they too give us sustenance. There are plants, animals, and birds from distant places that also benefit us and insure our lives. All these things must die so that we may survive, and it is that gift that we offer thanksgiving to.

Water flows throughout all of the seasons. Replenished from the sky in the form of rain and snow, flowing through the waterways on the Earth and beneath the soil providing the moisture that all life needs. The rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and the oceans provide the element of existence for fish and other like forms. The waters percolate through swamps, gravel, soil, and network of roots cleansing into purity for consumption of all life forms. The interconnected labyrinth above and below the soil, plus the yearly and daily cycles of water's way enabled by the winds allows us to live. For this to continue unaltered is a wondrous thing that we are thanked for.

It is the nature of human beings to gather together. We must stay connected to each other for love, friendship, and community with its sense of comfortable belonging. We acknowledge and have names for our families and others. Our grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins are acknowledged, as well as our friends from other families. These human beings sustain each of us in a manner dissimilar to our need for food, water, and shelter. Nonetheless, each of us gains a sustenance from them that is necessary for our existence and identity, and for this we are thankful. Even our enemies help us define who we are.

In harmony with the nurturing Earth is an unfathomable power called Creation. I can hear it in the songs of birds, in the hum of insects, and I can see it in the glow of the moon, in a black bear print in sand, and in my grandson's smiling eyes. I can feel it from the heat of the sun, from the wind on my face, and on my bare feet on damp grass. I feel creation with all my senses, and yes...even the ache in my aging knees is part of it. However, like the ant of Oren Lyon's statement, sensing the mountain...I know it is there, but human capabilities are unable to comprehend this awesome power that made everything. Nonetheless, it is clear that a special thanksgiving is addressed to this creative power.

updated August 2001

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