O Great Spirit


A reverent setting of a Lakota prayer of deep humility and connectedness to the natural world.  An unaccompanied solo flute opens the piece on a timeless melody of simple intervals.  Then the piano enters, establishing a steady rhythm with graceful patterns that form a “wash” of modal harmonies.  The choir takes up the flute’s melody as the “refrain” of the piece, as subsequent “verses” unfold the rest of the prayer’s text.  Homophonic choral textures alternate with canon and simple counterpoint, building to an effective peak.

The SSA version of this piece is published by Boosey & Hawkes. Click here to view, listen, and order.

Available as: SATB choir, piano, flute | SSA choir, piano, flute

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.



My mother treasured the Native American prayer “O Great Spirit,” which is attributed to Chief Yellow Lark, a Lakota Sioux.  She found it printed on the back of a Church of the Brethren bulletin one Sunday morning, and taped it up on the cupboard by the kitchen sink — her place of meditation.  Years later I rediscovered the prayer in a book of peace prayers from around the world, and was inspired to set it to music.  I got the idea for the theme on an early morning walk in an open meadow by Brackett Field in La Verne, CA, which is the only “wild” place I can get to within five minutes from my house in suburban Los Angeles.  In the spring, it is beautiful — all yellow and purple with wild mustard and thistle, and running with streams — but most of the year it is dry and dusty, awaiting its chance to flourish again with the winter rains.

I do not know of another prayer that is more beautifully expressive of humility — the quality of soul that comes from knowing one’s proper place in the order of things:

O Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the wind,
whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me;
I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty,
and make my eyes behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made,
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise, that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than another,
but to fight my greatest enemy: myself.
Make me ready to come to you,
with clean hands and clear eyes,
so when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.

— Chief Yellow Lark, with slight adaptations as needed to fit the music

Additional information


SATB choir, piano, flute

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