Braiding Sweetgrass … with Jesus – #2
David R. Weiss – July 1, 2021
This is the second in a series of occasional reflections as I make my way through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass (Milkweed Editions, 2013). Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist—not to mention a wonderful writer—weaves together story and wisdom and science, braiding them … like sweetgrass. As I explained in my first piece, my intent is neither to critique nor to co-opt her work, but to place it in fruitful conversation with my own Christian tradition—hence, one more strand in the braid. So this is me … braiding sweetgrass … with Jesus.
Eve … and the Apocalypse (Braiding, pages 7-9)
Sometimes it takes someone outside your own family to help you see its internal dynamics in a fresh light. One of the international high school students we hosted told us later that his experience in our home had invited him to rethink what was possible for “family.” We sort of took for granted how family life should be, but coming from his less healthy family experience he found his months in our home transformative. And by naming that to us we came to see the health of our home with new clarity. On the other hand, I once dated a young woman who I quickly discovered, as I spent time around her family, was the butt of every family story. Relentlessly. When I raised this to her, she felt driven to excuse it: “It’s just the way they try to show they love me.” She was so embedded in her story that it was threatening to see the way it undermined her own sense of self.
Kimmerer observes a similar hard truth for us. If we can listen. She notes how Skywoman is revered as a wise teacher and a model for how to live in harmony with the world into which she fell … while our Eve became a focal point of contempt and her story sets alienation—even banishment—at the heart of human experience. It’s hard to assess the damage done to women by this story. As much as patriarchy has dominated many cultures, the ascendancy of Christian patriarchy, enshrined not only in belief and culture, but also in law, has promulgated about as much suffering as any other twist of fate. Except one.
The larger theme in Eve’s tale (larger even than the yawning gender injustice) is the cosmological theme that sets the whole of humanity at odds with the (rest of!) the natural world … a world into which we are exquisitely and inextricably woven. Over the last two thousand years (the tale is older by far, but it’s the Christian spin on this tale that’s been so dangerous) this theme has offered the “ideological infrastructure” necessary to plunder the planet, to commit unimaginable atrocities against our fellow creatures, to reduce the living world to “resources,” and to light the fuse for a climate apocalypse that now seems all but certain to decimate half the life on this planet (www.phys.org/news/2021-06-climate-impacts-nature.html). HALF THE LIFE ON THIS PLANET. A horror that, should it come to pass, will provide a near insurmountable argument against the presence of a God who is either loving or just—all the more so should we be among the species to survive.
Yes, this story, Eve’s story, is more complex than simply these two themes. There are strands of holy truth as well as bits of hard-won wisdom harbored within this tale: God’s nearness to creation; our being “inspired” dirt; our kinship with creatures; tending the garden as human vocation; honest wrestling with the hard truths of enmity and mortality. But for generations we have allowed these two themes (gender inequality and creation’s otherness) to set the tone for a now global worldview that threatens the world itself. Which is why Kimmerer’s outsider observations needs to be amplified by those of us who claim Eve’s story as our own. This tale has been used to give aid and comfort to the enemies of Earth. It has been told in ways treasonous to creation itself.
Worse, this telling has two thousand years of inertia behind it. And if we do not re-write and re-right it in the next two decades—and do so not simply on paper, but in our hearts and lives as well—Eve’s tale will become the literary preface to a biological apocalypse. Stories matter. If we want Eve to truly be “the mother of all living” it’s time to tell her story very differently. Lest we make her the mother of all dead.
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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 email@example.com. 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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.