In the Beginning was the Deed.

In the chapter Inside Out – Outside In: The Arrowmaker and the Child of Earth’s Mind, the recently retired professor Roger Dunsmore shares a story from the Blackfoot tribe’s oral tradition.

The story is set in a tepee where a couple talk about the matters of the day while in another corner, the couple’s child plays, using a small spoon, dipping it in a kettle of soup. The child has not yet learned to talk, but it has learned to use its legs occasionally. At this hour, a spy from the enemy tribe peeps in through a gap in the tepee near the child. The child, at once, picked up its spoon, and places it near the spy’s lips, a gesture causing the spy to forget his purpose and open his mouth.

The child fed him spoonfuls, “many minutes” until the spy left. In a state of mind, which altered between guilt and gratitude for the child’s deed, the spy decides to come back to the family to warn them against the imminent danger, and when he goes back to his camp, he lies to his leader. He saves the family, a deed committed against his duty and purpose. In his heart, he believed that the child’s “medicine”, the soup that it fed, had powers – powers that healed him. In other words, the child’s divinity broke through his shell, and touched a part of him that was similar to the child’s.

Dunsmore shares this story for two reasons: the first is to show the reader that although the native culture has folklores reiterating the “warrior” but that it also consists of stories where war has been shunned, and peace has been practiced. The second reason is to show how Western storytellers have divorced other aspects and traditions of the natives except that of the warrior and the stories about wars.

The story, in itself offers valuable lessons to all who read, their consciousness guiding them to interpret the story for themselves. But, the image of the wordless child, toddling inside the tepee, and with a spoon with soup in it, feeding the spy, has remained for me the guiding center. The child, without the relative ease of communication through language, performed a deed eminent than all words in the human language. The deed of service, in service, has been mentioned throughout history as the greatest service rendered.

Dunsmore then reminds us of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German statesman and writer who sat down at his desk to change the opening lines of the Gospel of John, in Faust. Even as Goethe attempted to modify, he realizes,

““It is written: In the beginning was the word.”
Here I am stuck at once. Who will help me on?
I am unable to grant the Word such merit,
I must translate it differently
If I am truly enlightened by the spirit.
“It is written: In the beginning was the Mind.”
But why should my pen scour
So quickly ahead? Consider that first line well.
Is it the Mind that effects and creates all things?
It should read: “In the beginning was the Power.”
Yet, even as I am changing what I have writ,
Something wants me not to abide by it.
The spirit prompts me, I see in a flash, what I need,
And write: “In the beginning was the Deed.””

Deed, then stands tall among Power, Mind, and Word, communicating and bestowing that which needs no power, no mind, and no words. It transmutes the state of being, as it did through the child, in the state of being of the spy. The spy was not a spy to the child; he was a mere figure peeping in through its tepee at the nightly hour, maybe even mistaken for a relative, but without letting him disturb its disposition, the child did what it felt was to be done, naturally. Through its act, it transmuted the espionage, the fear, and the conditioned behaviours of the spy.

Recently, I visited a friend at her house. It was just after three and having dedicated my lunch hour to work, I was hungry and tired. I learned after that my friend had informed her mother about my arrival, who set out to prepare a meal, a little more than usual, to offer me. The meal was my first at her house – basmati rice boiled with a stick of cinnamon and a single clove and a curry made of chickpeas and spices. I looked at my plate, the shimmering cooked rice, pregnant with the steam and water, covered in the curry’s earth brown. I took a spoonful, and said grace in silence.

These two occurrences – the meal that was offered to me and the soup that was offered to the spy – divided by time and culture, are recorded in my mind and memory as a palimpsest. The deeds, uncorrupted and abundant, revealed to us both – to the spy and to me – an inspired side of the divine, one that is forgotten, enshrouded in Power, Mind and Word. It is the silence that manifests itself through its forms – every dust mote and every star.

The native oral traditions are replete with stories that speak of beings floating and existing in the universe, beings of all life-forms, including the mountain and the river, the sun and the deer. Wallace Stevens, the American Modernist poet who worked as an insurance agent during the day, composed in his Anecdotes of Men by the Thousands,

“There are men of a valley
Who are that valley;
The soul is composed
Of the external world.”

I believe, Stevens knew of these beings, other than the human beings intimately, and tried to convey about them to us through his master use of the human language, fusing the abstract and the conceptual worlds. Our modern world with its machines and artillery, with its mind and objectives, and its over-thinking and numbness, has forgotten how to see, how to seek the beings that roam freely, and stand at one’s elbow, prodding us to right ourselves. Goethe was right to rewrite those lines, “In the beginning was the Deed” – a deed tugs, implores, prods, and transmutes. On that afternoon at my friend’s house, it tugged at my elbow, asked me to bow in reverence to the food, its maker, and the Divine.


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