A couple months ago a braid of sweetgrass appeared on my desk. Although I don’t know where it came from, I thought it a fortunate coincidence that it appeared at that moment. I was in the middle of reading the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Potawatomi ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer. She explains that in her language Sweetgrass is called wiingashk, the sweet smelling hair of Mother Earth. She writes, “Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the wiingashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen” (p. 27).
What a privilege, then, to have received this gift! I think we often regard gifts, especially those that come from creation, as requiring nothing of us beyond gratitude. But Kimmerer challenged me to think about the gift of creation another way. She suggests that gifts establish a relationship, and require reciprocity. Reciprocity is the act of exchanging something with another for mutual benefit. So, there is a responsibility attached to this gift of sweetgrass.
Kimmerer writes “we are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity: plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Water knows this, clouds know this. Soil and rocks know they are dancing in a continuous giveaway of making, unmaking, and making again the earth” (p. 383). Humankind has joined in on this dance – but more often than not, we refuse to recognize that we are part of it. We choose to take and destroy rather than give and restore, even though we have been commanded to “care for and keep” creation (Genesis 2:15).
I have been thinking about the recent worrisome news from the International Panel on Climate Change, and wondering what a good response might be. The mysterious gift of the braid of sweetgrass reminds me that creation is also a gift and my relationship to the earth is meant to be reciprocal. As Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” That means it doesn’t belong to us to do with as we please. As creatures uniquely created in God’s image we have a responsibility to care for what has been entrusted to us. As I think about Kimmerer’s challenge that gifts require reciprocity, I wonder what benefit the earth receives in our exchange? What gifts do I have to offer back to creation?
One way that A Rocha Manitoba has been giving back to creation has been through creating a community of creation care here in Winnipeg. We recently gathered at a community member’s home for a harvest feast. The table was spread with delicious homegrown food, and laughter filled the air as we shared stories of favourite gifts that we had received in the past. In community we can do far more than we can do on our own.
By Zoe Matties – Manitoba Program Manager
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