When We Return to the Gift of the Earth

Photo by Amy Paulson

“But every once in a while, with a basket in hand, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well.”  — Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’m sitting in our newly organized office, a room at the front of our house facing the yard. My husband has a desk, converted from an old oak table with our computer placed on top, and I sit at a tiny desk gifted to us by my sister-in-law Melissa right after we were married 10 years ago.

To be honest, for the past few weeks, the Earth has been closely haunting me with her songs, her stories, her wishes.

Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t listening before. Usually it’s the case that I just don’t know how to. There is too much noise. There is too much Netflix. There is too much I’m just too busy.

It’s the lie of the century, really, placing blame on things like busyness. We are called to be honest people, and so, in a time like ours when the Earth is continually stripped by human greed one tree, river, and piece of land at a time, we need to remember our place.

If you’ve not read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass,I highly encourage you to. As a poet, a scientist, and an indigenous woman, she weaves together stories through her encounters with the world, a book written by a true mystic if ever there was one.

She describes, in the latest chapter I’ve devoured, the work of creating black ash baskets from the trees. It’s a process that requires the artist and creator to understand that the pieces used to make the basket are a gift, to honor the work and to carry that acknowledgement constantly with her.

We have always lived in a world that gives to us.

And if we’re Christians, our entire paradigm of religion or spiritual practice is based on the idea that grace is a true gift, passed to us in the most unexpected ways from God.

And so, we are constantly on the receiving end of goodness.

And so, we are constantly in need of becoming better givers.

I grew up reenacting the scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,you know, this one:

I spent hours in my yard, wherever I could find little sprigs of weeds that I could watch blow into the wind. I wanted a magical life, where I could sing and dance and be free with the creatures around me who ask to be free.

But along the way, I found television shows and indoor games, and the call of the wilderness became a far off dream. I became further disconnected from my Potawatomi identity, and in losing that, I lost stories that could have reminded me of myself, of God.

I still spent time outside, but I didn’t listen the way I once did. I lost sight of the magicthat once called me, unable to find the wardrobe that led me to my Narnia where Aslan sang songs of creation and benevolent beings stretched out their arms to care for me.

As beautiful and good as this world was created to be, the older we get, we inherit the human trait of deeming it a wasteland, taking whatever we want at the risk of ruining what was once full of life.

We strip trees for paper products.

We build skyscrapers without asking what creatures we’re stealing from.

We desecrate sacred sites for the sake of oil sales.

But growing up in the church, I never heard a word from the pulpit about our responsibility to care.

Sure, we were called to save souls and do our daily quiet time, to love God with our hearts, souls, minds.

But not once did I hear the word, “…and treat this world the way you’d want to be treated. Treat this land as the sacred thing that it is. We are connected to all of it, and so if it perishes, so do we.”

And I certainly never learned the truth of our history as a nation, that we stole land from native peoples and called their ceremonies pagan, savage, vile. We instead decided that our own religion should lift up economy and profit for the sake of the Gospel.

And so, as an adult, I’m returning. For 10 years I’ve watched my husband long to be outside, to find rest among rivers and rocks, to stretch the arms of his own heart out for the world to answer Welcome home, welcome home. 

I recently returned to a home that I had never been to, a home that has been calling me back–the Great Lakes region of the United States where my tribe, the Potawatomi people, once lived.

We lived as the Three Fires Anishinaabe alliance alongside the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Ottawa (Odawa) people.

While there for a conference, I took a morning to tether myself to the land, to the water. I walked to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the waves roll in, listening for a story, for a word.

I could hear laughter in her wake. I could hear the faint sounds of time, cries of lament, words of encouragement, of keep going echoing along the shoreline.

In essence, the water was telling me, again, the story of life, my own story, calling to memory the journey I’ve taken to get here today.

She was telling me of my own people being removed from the land, forced to walk the Trail of Death toward dusty Kansas and into Oklahoma. She was telling the story of a Creator who sees and bears the pain of it all, speckling grace over us the entire way.

She was telling me that I am not alone, that I never will be.

 

Photo by Amy Paulson

 

The world, she asks us to return. She asks us to look back, to laugh, to lament, to tell the whole storyand leave nothing out.

I’m returning to things that have been calling me for a long time.

I’m returning to the work of wonder.

I’m returning to the gifts given.

I’m returning to a time before the busyness to say that these things are worth the hard work of paying attention.

And so, it is truly not enough to put aside one day out of the year to call this Earth good.

It is not enough to blame others for not caring when we ourselves have not learned to care.

It is not enough that some of our institutions care for this world and most don't.

If we are alive today, it is because this world that we inhabit has sheltered us, has given to us, an extension of God’s own love.

 

May we return, in 2018, to the garden, to the greens, to the sights and sounds of peacemaking, because the Gospel, which has always been with the people, asks us to.

 

“We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” —Braiding Sweetgrass 

Answers in a World of Opposites

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Some of the most frustrated people I know want to make sense of the world’s mysteries so that their lives fall into place in a way that makes sense.

It’s understandable. After all, the age old question is why do bad things happen to good people? isn’t it?

The most beautiful and most frustrating thing about mystery is that it doesn’t make sense. It simply IS.

But how do we find what we’re looking for in mystery if we cannot make sense of its ways?

Perhaps we look to what opposites can teach us.

Maybe we go outside of ourselves to figure out what’s happening inside.

Maybe we make our own voices quiet so our soul’s voice can be louder.

Maybe we kneel so that we are lifted up.

Maybe we become like children to really mature.

Maybe we love when we should hate.

Maybe what is small opens up the whole world to us.

Maybe we trust when all we want to do is worry.

I asked my husband recently if I should continue writing weekly letters to the president, something I’ve been doing since inauguration day. I told him that I’m tired, and that I don’t really know what to say anymore. I told him that I don’t know if it’s helping.

He told me that people often give up when they don’t see results. He reminded me that many movements fail because the people leading them decide that the efforts aren’t worth it anymore.

I sat quiet for a few seconds and said, “Well, then. I won’t stop writing.”

I choose the opposite. I choose to do what shouldn’t be done. I choose what doesn’t make sense because I know it produces some sort of fruit in me.

When we are so tired, maybe instead of working harder like the world tells us to do, we actually stop and rest.

Maybe instead of telling ourselves we can’t do it, we say that we know it’s possible.

Maybe I learn to listen to my ancestors, to be grateful when things are anything but great.

Maybe, like Jesus, we flip tables over when we’re not supposed to and we make messes when the church asks us to keep it neat.

Friends, there is a whole world of opposites, and if we live in fear, we miss them.

And if we live in fear, we might miss the irony that is the mystery of God, this strange thing called Spirit that we get to encounter.

I go outside and see a hawk in the sky, and I am grounded.

I shut up for a minute and my two young sons end up teaching me a lesson.

I pray for leaders I don’t agree with and God floods me with compassion and courage to do the right thing in the face of all that is wrong.

The Mystery simply is.

But always, there is an invitation. Always, there is a world waiting for us.

It’s just often not what we think.

It’s just often the irony that gets us going in the right direction.

Because somehow, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, doesn’t it?

Somehow, the wind blows around all of us and we are just here to do the work, the good work, called to make peace where there is war and beat weapons into tools of harvest.

That is the work of Mystery. The work of Spirit.

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

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These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heels into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.

 

O God, Make Us Rich

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O God,

make us rich

by the richness of a Kingdom–

created by you,

sustained by you,

untangled time and again from the mess we make of it.

That Kingdom– a place where prosperity gospel is turned upside down–

is a wild culture that is so “other” we could not seek to explain it.

It is the firefly in flight,

dashes of lightning that we try to catch and hold

for as long as possible.

It is the ripple of water,

expanding into unknown territory,

then quietly disappearing into the depths.

This Kingdom is a structure that we cannot design

but get to co-create,

one tiny space at a time.

O God,

make us rich in Kingdom,

poor by the standards given in this world we know.

Make us rich in experiences,

rich in the knowledge of your goodness

shown to us in this created existence.

Remind us of the rich promise

that you will not abandon us,

that every day is meant for

a more alive kind of living.

O God,

our joy is boundless

by your standards of wealth,

and our way is known

because you walked the path ahead of us and behind.

O God,

make us rich,

simply because we are tethered to the grand things

while we stare at the smallest specks of miracle–

the sprouting seed,

the toddling child,

the hammock swing on the front porch,

the gift of companionship.

Because using a Kingdom currency

means we live outside of ourselves,

beyond these walls,

with bigger tables

and emptier pockets,

because the Kingdom currency

is somehow only the gift of giving,

endlessly and honestly,

with everything eternally good in return,

even with our suffering in tow.

So,

O God,

make us rich in that,

if only we get to know you

here and now

in every little everything.

Amen.