Braiding Sweetgrass … with Jesus – #1
David R. Weiss – June 23, 2021
Prodded by my pastor (to whom I now owe a debt of gratitude … thanks, Sarah) I finally pulled my copy of Braiding Sweetgrass off the shelf and started reading. The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist, and her book is subtitled, “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” (Milkweed Editions, 2013). Her work straddles worlds and worldviews, weaving together story and wisdom and science, braiding them … like sweetgrass.
Kimmerer notes that while it’s possible to braid sweetgrass by yourself, “the sweetest way” is to work in tandem with someone else, “so that you gently pull against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head, chatting and laughing” as you braid. (ix) That’s how I tend to read most everything: leaning into the words and wisdom of others and chatting amiably as I join the conversation as a theologian determined to learn as much as I can and discover connections wherever possible.
I’m not interested in co-opting Kimmerer’s work or indigenous wisdom in general. Her writing sings with an authenticity and eloquence that is all her own. I am, however, interested in placing my Christian tradition in vibrant conversation with other streams of sacred (and scientific) insight. There is just too much truth for us not to share its abundance—and too much at stake for us not to bring fresh wisdom home every chance we get. So this is me … braiding sweetgrass … with Jesus.
(I’m not sure how many of these posts I’ll write. I don’t plan to offer a page-by-page or point-by-point commentary. I simply want to lift up some of the places in Braiding Sweetgrass where I found myself lifting up my eyebrows in kindred recognition or in appreciative insight.)
Ceremony, memory, story (pages 5-8)
Kimmerer writes, “Our elders say that ceremonies are the way we ‘remember to remember.’” Ways that we are called to reenact memories that true our lives. And so it is. I would add—and Kimmerer would heartily agree, they are, in fact, the way we remember to remember to re-member.
In the Protestant church we have two great “ceremonies,” rituals we call sacraments: baptism and communion, although throughout our liturgical year the various feasts and festivals and seasons we observe also are focal points of remembering. But let’s take just baptism and communion. These rituals connect contemporary action to ancient promise and do so through by placing our lives into the deep story of our tradition’s origins. Our elders (saints and theologians) say that these rituals announce grace at the core of our living. This truth embraces us in every moment of our life, but the ritual gives us a sacred choreography that reminds us—tactilely, tastefully—to remember that truth so vividly that it follows us from ritual moment to mundane living.
Luther said that Christian life is a daily crawling back to our baptism. The water wets us but once, though we join in wetting others and recall our own baptism each time. But the truth of the water is not held fast by the font; it splashes outward into our waking and sleeping and all the breaths we take in between. And our communion liturgy, of course, reminds us that Jesus himself said, “Do this to remember me.”
In our sacred ceremonies as in the ones that Kimmerer recalls, the truths are remembered not simply by proclamation but by story. The power of such ceremony is not “magic”; no matter how enthralling Harry Potter tales might be, we are not playing at wizardry here. Ceremony moves memory, and memory holds story, and story holds truth, and truth opens to power. For us, grace—the audacious and exquisite knowing that we are loved by divine abandon—dances in both directions across these connections, ultimately bearing fruit in lives ripe with love.
But we don’t simply remember to remember, but also to re-member. Which is to say by these rituals, we re-kin ourselves one to another. We too easily take this for granted. But the truth and power of grace is always communal. We are never saved-loved-healed singly, even though there are absolutely moments in which we experience it as such. Still, the Wisdom that fashioned the fabric of creation wove it socially, from gravity to ecosystem, tectonic plates to human community. Those who have been marginalized, excluded, or condemned by wicked twists in the tradition on account of gender, ability, race, or sexuality, these ones can attest to the rampant joy of being enfolded by sacred ceremony, being named within holy story, being re-membered into true place, being heralded home.
If our present experience of baptism and communion seems tepid by comparison to the rich imagery evoked by my braiding sweetgrass … with Jesus, we might ask ourselves how we can re-animate our ceremonies so that they indeed become holy moments in we remember to remember to re-member … grace.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.