One of the greatest lessons you can teach child is that he is a custodian of the earth. I’ve learned over time that to be an effective steward you must possess a variety of qualities and skills, chief among them is compassion. You cannot really teach compassion; you can, however, point it out. If the observer allows his heart to be touched deeply enough, he will know compassion.
We cannot dress and keep the earth if we fail to keep our relationships with one another sacred. I found this lovely poem yesterday and my hope is that it might inspire you to be more compassionate with those around you – no matter how hard they might try to sway you from your task.
FRIENDSHIP’S ALTAR (an original poem of Indian legends of Mackinac Island by Lorena M. Page)
Upon a height the “Altar” stands,
Where once there gathered dusky bands
In days of long ago.
‘Twas here their teacher daily stood,
Beside this “Altar” in the wood
His knowledge to bestow.
He lessons gave the gathered band
In tilling soil and planting land
With crops of maize or wheat.
He taught them arts of land and sea,
And told them of the maple tree
With stores of sugar sweet.
He taught them how to make the dart.
And aim it at the shy deer’s heart
Before it left the bow.
With wonder deep, and awed amaze,
They watched its flight with staring gaze
And saw it pierce a doe.
He taught them skins to cure and dress
To cover their wild nakedness—
This man of ancient fame.
He made for them the birch canoe,
To buoyant skim the waters blue
In quest of sport or game.
He wove for them a fishing net
To set in lake or rivulet
Beneath the water’s ebb;—
And for a pattern of the snare
He pointed down ‘midst tangles where
A spider spun its web.
And, flocking there to hear his words,
There daily gathered scores of birds
Of every kind and shade;
“My Little Brothers” was the name
He gave these flocks that daily came
And sweetest music made.
The season passed, and moons went by-
Still by his “Altar” towering high,
The noble leader taught;
And some progressed in skill and arts
Till others envied in their hearts
And mischief thus was wrought.
The implements of sport and chase
Were used in war, as race met race—
And stained with gory red.
The teacher sad, and grieving stood
Beside the “Altar” in the wood;
At last he kindly said:
“I came among you arts to give
Of how to work and how to live,
In wise and perfect life.
Waste not the time in battle’s fray,
But live in friendship from to-day,
And cease this cruel strife.”
They heeded not his gentle speech,
And broke the laws he strove to teach
To them in kindest words:
And one by one they dropped away,
Until at last, one summer day—
There only came the birds.
He sadly turned and faced them all,
And smiled upon them, great and small,
And forth they burst in song.
Then hushing all the gathered band,
As close they flew on ev’ry hand,
He thus addressed the throng:
“My task, ‘My Brothers’ is complete;
I journey forth new tribes to meet;
But I will come again.
Your part will be to sing each day,
To cheer along the earthly way
The plodding feet of men.
“All sing to them of life ahead,
Beyond the dwellings of the Dead,
For whom they mourn and weep;
And tell them I will come once more
From out the land, beyond the shore
Across the waters deep.”
He quickly climbed the “Altar’s” height,
And, trailing down a ladder white
Of floating tendrils swept;
He stepped upon the magic vine,
That high in cloudland seemed to twine,
And swiftly upward leapt.
Along the ladder, toward the blue,
He quickly faded from the view
Of all the gathered throng.
And as he vanished from their eyes
Is radiant clouds of waiting skies,
Each sang a different song.
And, day by day, by forest shrine,
They watched to see the trailing vine,
Come sweeping down once more.
Their tryst was vain. They scattered wide
And sought for him o’er land and tide,
Far from the Island’s shore.
The hawks and falcons soared on high
To seek his dwelling in the sky,
Within the cloudlands fair;
The eagle then with stronger flight
Winged upward far from mortal sight
In regions of the air.
Petrels and gulls, on tireless wing,
Flew o’er the deep with dipping swing
Of teacher kind to learn.
While, swimming on the water’s breast,
The wild fowl, floating in the quest,
Were joined by teal and tern.
The loon dove down beneath the waves
To search in deeply hidden caves;
And as in days of yore—
The song-birds warbled songs of praise
Taught to them in departed days,
Upon the Island’s shore.
One bird there was who could not sing,
Nor cleave the air on tireless wing,
Nor breast the water’s foam;
The partridge had to stupid wait,
With naught to do but mourn his fate,
Within his thicket home.
At last he said, “I’ll build a boat,
Across the sea to swiftly float,
Our absent friend to find.”
He started then with utmost speed
To build a craft to meet his need,
And suited to his mind.
The birds are seeking to this day,
O’er land or sea, in their own way,
To find the man of Good.
And still the drumming sounds betray
The partridge as he works away
Within the silent wood.
The Red Men say this Guide once more
Will seek his “Altar” near the shore,
From out his cloud-walled plain;
He only waits to arrows make
Sufficient to each white life take
Before he comes again.
9 thoughts on “Friendship’s Altar”
Compassion is stripped from the heart when the eye cannot see through the clouds that form in mental tension. You feel out of step and the decisions you make under this influence are simply adding insult to injury, augmenting this pathological condition.
There is no safety, no sanctity where compassion is exiled.
I wonder how many times we will have to be taught to respect the Earth. It seems rediculous that something so relied on is stripped and exploited rather than nurtured and protected.
I hope that as a species we can learn compassion. If we continue to walk down the current path, we will eat our seed corn and then it will be too late.
Deeply touched, my heart has been
To know the compassion that you mean
The day has come to share with thee
This gift so precious, eternally
With hope on high, that you will stay, and depart not with dying day
Courage strong will remain, even if alone I must stay.
If you depart and turn again
Look first for me, my only friend.
What a beautiful, poignant poem. Without compassion, we lack empathy for others as in its place will certainly be judgement and an inability to feel what others may be feeling or an understanding of why. If we want to help our friends, family, co-workers or beyond, our heart must be open and free of disdain, demand or hardness. A good place to start is to review our daily thoughts and words with respect to others.
I appreciate Greg’s post and your words Nik calling for our heart’s to be free of disdain, demand or hardness upon others. The call to be compassionate is enlivened in this day.
Very touching poem. Thank you for sharing it.
A beautiful poem. It saddens me to think of all the wonderful teachings that we humans have been given of how to live, and yet we allow ourselves to drift into the poorest expressions of ourselves that we possibly can, over and over again. How we waste the time that is given to us fighting our brothers, no matter what form they wear. Where conflict instead of love becomes the “high altar” of our worship. Our hope is that there will be an awakening of awareness of the decline of man, and from that awareness the changes will come. Changes now necessary to save the earth, and all the life that dwells there. Where all mankind becomes friends once more with his brothers, where all Life has a true and open value.
What an absolutely beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing this today! We can each individually choose to act with compassion and seek to bring peace into the worlds we center. Then, the teacher will return!
How poignant to read in such lyrical prose the separation of man from the Omnipotent. I’m sure every culture has a legend of the time when their ancestors enjoyed the power that comes from unity with the divine source and then the record of their separation. I find it interesting that most also allude to the availability of a reconnection. While the separation is tragic and I find it valuable to understand what occured the point is the reunification. In the attitude of compassion is the space to repent. Compassion by its very nature precludes judgement. This marvelous perspective is the beginning of healing. Wonderful poem/story, it’s point is heralding.