Gratitude sutra by Forrest Pierce

Thoughts about “Gratitude Sutra” from composer Forrest Pierce:  During a period of grief, I found myself unable to compose. The work I had been attempting, a setting of St. Francis of Assisi’s Cantico delle Creature, required too much praise, too much presence for me in my empty, hollow condition. I found myself thinking of my homeland in the west, and the otherworldly high granite of alpine wilderness, whose essence is so powerfully embodied in the writing of Gary Snyder. A poem from Snyder’s collection Turtle Island, “Prayer for the Great Family,” opened a sunlit window onto the same universe of beauty extolled by St. Francis, through words of simple gratitude. The choral work that emerged became a kind of sutra for me, a discourse on the generous beauties that sustain us on this voyage around the sun.


Prayer for the Great Family
Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave, and aware
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep—he who wakes us—
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars—and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife
so be it.

after a Mohawk prayer
Text by Gary Snyder, from TURTLE ISLAND, ©1974 by Gary Snyder.
Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

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