Something that you probably already know about me is that I love books. When my son started kindergarten I volunteered in the school library. When he started first grade, I couldn't imagine a more fun job than being a school librarian, getting to read to kids and surrounded by books all day long. In many ways, I was right - being a school librarian was a really fun job. It was also a lot of hard work, so never take the librarians in your lives for granted!
I miss the days when I was younger and could get totally engrossed in a book for a lazy afternoon. I remember being on an airplane once, reading something, and it took a hard nudge to realize that the flight attendant was talking to me. I think I was in high school then. I don't often get that engrossed any more, and if you look at my Goodreads feed you'll find not too many five-star books. The ones I really like get four stars, unless I like the book AND it makes me look at the world and life differently.
Occasionally, I've finished reading a book that I checked out from the library, returned it and gone straight to the book store to buy it, because I loved it so much. I have The River Why by David James Duncan and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver on my shelves for that very reason. I often can't tell you why a book touched me so profoundly, but I know when it did.
The most recent book that touched me that way is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It is a book that gives me hope and a feeling of groundedness, and I love it. The day I finished reading it I happened to see on Facebook that Dr. Kimmerer was speaking not far from my home. Jay agreed to go with me, and I stood in a fairly long line to get her to sign my paperback copy of her book. There were some copies in that line that were even more ragged than mine! She signed my book, "For Kathy Brown in praise of green." I love that!
I suggested Braiding Sweetgrass to our book group. One couple said it was on their shelf and they had never really gotten into it but they would give it another try. We chose to read it, and every person in the group has at least once said, "I really love this book." If you haven't read it, check it out!
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist and a professor of Environmental Biology at the State University of New York. She is an enrolled citizen of the Potawatomie Nation, and is the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment (from the back cover).
Early in the book, Dr. Kimmerer relates the story of how she had to choose whether to study poetry or science. She chose science, obviously, but her poetic voice comes through in her writing. I would love to recount the whole book here, but then you would think you read the book. Also, plagiarism.
This book is, to me, about relationships - the relationships between people and creation, people and each other, and by extension, people and their creator. She talks a lot about giving gratitude and respect to the plants and animals around us. She is a very spiritual person, I think, but isn't coming, or at least isn't writing, from a Judeo-Christian perspective. And she has me thinking.
Genesis 1:1, in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, says, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God created the heavens and the earth. So heaven and earth were created at approximately the same time. Why do we value heaven so much and treat the earth like a rest area, where we don't even need to clean the toilets? God clearly values both.
Carina Nebula, Webb Telescope, July 2022
The faith of our fathers taught us that God told Adam to go forth and have dominion over the earth, and subdue it. Genesis 1:28: God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (NRSV) The faith of our fathers taught that having dominion means ruling over and using at will. It was understood that mankind could do whatever he wanted with the earth, and if animals or plants became extinct, or water or air was polluted, well...that was God's plan. God said it.
But what if that isn't what God said? What if God's plan was that God's beloved creation (in the first chapter of Genesis, each time God creates something, the Bible says God saw that it was good) is an extension of heaven? We Christians pray the Lord's prayer and say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." What if the earth is God's kingdom? Because another definition of "having dominion" is "being responsible for." If we are responsible, we take better care. If we are responsible for the rest area, we don't allow toilets to back up and throw toilet paper all over the floor. We keep it clean and take pride in it. We care for it, respect it, and treat it well. Here ends my analogy of earth as a rest stop.
God created earth and heaven, and expects us to care for it, respect it, and treat it well.
Robin Wall Kimmerer calls on us to treat Earth well by reciprocating. How do we do that? We never take the first that we see - because if we don't take the first, we can never take the last. We ask permission and listen for the answer. We don't take more than we need, and we use everything we take. We express gratitude. We share. We minimize harm. We reciprocate for the gift.
How very different from the ways of our fathers, who nearly drove the bison to extinction for the sport of hunting; who did drive the gentle dodo bird into extinction because it allowed sailors to get too close. Who have created monocultures of crops that are at risk of disease. Who use a small part of what is taken and throw the rest away. Who have an attitude of entitlement more than gratitude. Our current culture, at least in the US, is "every man for himself!" As long as I get mine and enough to save for later, I don't care what happens to you. Who cares if our toxic slag pollutes waterways and kills the fish someone depends upon to eat? Or if it kills the plants that the fish require to survive? Who cares if toxic exhaust from smoke stacks pollutes the air and asthma rates down wind skyrocket? Who cares that there is lead in the water in Flint, MI as long as our taxes don't go up?
I'll tell you who cares - God does. And woe be unto us - blind fools! - if we don't start paying attention.
Jay recently saw a sign outside a church that said something like, "Worry less about this life and more about the next one." There are some who say it doesn't matter if we extinguish our beautiful earth because if we all die that is God's plan and brings the "rapture" that much sooner. Of course, these are people who would never think that they might not be "raptured" to heaven, but - what is the opposite of rapture? - rushed off right into hell, because they think they have the right answers and anyone who disagrees doesn't and is going to be left behind to suffer eternal torment. Don't let me get on THAT soapbox.
I suggest that God's creation is part of God's kingdom, and it is so obvious to me that I can't believe I never thought of it before! We think of God's kingdom of heaven to be somewhere we hope to go, believing that it is someplace where we are not yet. I'm suggesting that Earth and God's creation are as much a part of God's kingdom as heaven is, because God created heaven and earth.
And if that is the case, then we had better wake up and start caring for creation a lot better than we are now, because , as Isaiah said:
The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know; my people do not understand.
4 Woe, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who act corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, [[who are utterly estranged!
5 Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is injured, and the whole heart faint. (Isaiah 1:3-5)
OK, OK, I know that the Bible says that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, and the Bible separates heaven and earth, and the Biblical writers indicated that heaven is somewhere we should all aspire to be. But when I remember that those Biblical writers were men (maybe some women somewhere had some influence), and I remember that they only knew what they knew and had a limited world view, then I think that of course they wrote it that way. But just because we have learned some new things doesn't mean that God didn't teach them to us - or allow us to peel back a layer. What have we learned from the Webb telescope? That the universe is more vast and beautiful than we could have ever imagined. When the Bible was written, if the stories about Christopher Columbus are to be believed, people still thought the earth was flat.
Christians will tell us that we have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be "saved." Reading Braiding Sweetgrass has reinforced to me that there are many people who worship in many different ways and are often closer to God and getting it right that Christians are. I'm not saying that Jesus isn't the divine and the son of God, but Christians keep getting it wrong. In fact, scriptures support Dr. Kimmerer's practice of reciprocating to the earth:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. (Leviticus 19:9) Never take the first, because if you don't take the first, you can't take the last.
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you. (Job 12:7-8) Ask permission, and listen to the answer.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, (Matthew 6:19) Never take more than you need, and use what you take.
I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify thy name for ever. (Psalm 86:12). Express gratitude. This was a tough scripture to pick, because there are so many about giving thanks.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah:58: 6-7) Share what you take.
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil men. (Proverbs 4:14). Minimize harm.
...thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock; and there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7) Reciprocate for the gift.
If we approach the earth with reverence, as God's beloved creation, then we have to rethink so many of the things we do. I don't have all the answers, but some things that I am trying to do:
Shop local. Do I really need cherries from the west coast when there are really good cherries here when they are in season? Do I really need to buy beef from feed lots when there are lots of farms around me where, if I wanted to, I could meet the cow that will feed me? I'm not there yet - I prefer not to encounter my living food, but perhaps if I did I would be more careful with it.
Re-think our gardens. When we bought our house it was surrounded by beautiful Pampas grass. The problem is that nothing eats it and nothing lives in it, which is an advantage I suppose, but it isn't native. I want my garden to be a haven for bees, butterflies, and birds. Snakes (the poisonous ones will have to be relocated by the Fish and Game Service) and chipmunks are welcome too. If deer eat the plants I just hope they leave enough to share. Raccoons would be fun, until they tip over the garbage cans, so I guess I need to rethink how I secure the garbage (actually, I need to rethink how I suggest Jay secures the garbage).
Do I really need to drive my car every day? I admit, I don't work outside my farm so my commute is across the yard on foot. Even when I was employed, I was reluctant to carpool - it just seemed so inconvenient. Do you know what else is inconvenient? Climate change - just ask the people in Texas, Arizona and Maui. I could go to the store or to do errands every day, but I try very hard to consolidate my trips.
I do recycle - I guess there is some question about how effective that is, but it makes me feel like I am doing something to help, and it probably (?) doesn't hurt.
I compost my kitchen scraps (and alpaca manure, but most of you can't do that) to feed the garden I am trying to restore.
I am considering reducing my lawn size, and we don't put chemical fertilizers or weed killer on it. We have also left some parts of our acreage unmown, and most of it is covered with forest.
I buy sustainably caught fish.
Jay and I have installed solar panels on the roof of our house and our barn, and we have installed a geothermal heating system. I know not everyone has the financial means to do this, but I can support tax breaks for those choosing to install them.
I vote. I vote for candidates who believe in climate change and believe that measures need to be taken to mitigate it. And who support tax breaks for solar panels.
I do write to my elected officials - most of whom don't listen to me because I am from the wrong party, so many of my letters have a "shame on you" tone which is probably not helpful, but they need to hear that not all of their constituents believe that big business is best.
Now when I go outside, I will try to remember what Dr. Kimmerer says about reciprocating to the Earth - to God's earth. I will never take the first of anything. I will ask permission - "May I take this?" and listen for the answer, which I know I will get wrong because it hasn't been the practice of my people, but I will sometimes get it right. If the answer is no, because there is only one, or it isn't healthy, or it is too young, I will leave it. I will not take more than I can use. I will minimize harm to the very best of my ability. I will share. I will reciprocate for the gift by weeding, watering, scattering seeds, replacing non-natives. And always, ALWAYS, I will express my gratitude.
God's Kingdom is here AND there, now AND not yet. We need to work on our treatment of the kingdom we live in now, and worry less about the kingdom we hope to enter some day.
Tall Grass, K. Brown 2021.
On a completely different note, I received a message from one of my readers, Ella from DrugWatch, the other day, inviting any of you are members of the LGBTQ+ community, or who love or care about someone who is, to check out the following website that is a health guide that covers a variety of health concerns. I have not vetted this website and cannot speak to its authority, but you might want to check it out: https://www.drugwatch.com/health/lgbtq/
Citations: Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions. Minneapolis, MN. 2013.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. "Cosmic Cliffs" in the Carina Nebula. Image. Webb Telescope. July 12, 2022. https://webbtelescope.org/contents/media/images/2022/031/01G77PKB8NKR7S8Z6HBXMYATGJ Accessed August 14, 2023