Recently, I have been listening to Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Native-American botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer (RWK). I read this beautiful book years ago and it moved and challenged me. So when I heard that Writers & Books had chosen Braiding Sweetgrass for Rochester Reads this year, I decided to revisit the book. And I highly recommend the recorded version: RWK has such a calm and steady voice it makes the book even more delightful. [If you’re not familiar with Rochester Reads, check out: wab.org/rochester-reads.]
In the book, RWK poses a question that has gripped me; Can non-native Americans become indigenous to place? Can we “enter into the deep reciprocity that renews the world?” Such a thing would require an intimate knowledge of and respect for nature and a new relationship of reciprocity.
This sounds very familiar to me. In Ignatian spirituality we spend thirty weeks walking alongside the human Jesus so that we can know Him more intimately, follow Him more closely and love Him more dearly. We seek a reciprocity in which, aware that all of creation is gift, in gratitude we offer all of ourselves to God.
We are invited, too, to come to know God more intimately through creation. Nature is God’s ever-unfolding revelation. Consider St. Bonaventure’s words: “Each and every creature reflects a different aspect of the creator.” It seems to follow that the process of spending time with our non-human neighbors--listening, seeing, tending and being tended to--is another practice that leads us closer to God. And deeper awareness of how much God loves all of this creation which they called “good.”
RWK doesn’t think that immigrant Americans like us can become indigenous to place. That word is reserved for those whose lineages predate European colonization. But she offers us a path toward naturalization, a way of living that honors this land and all of its inhabitants. That path will require nothing less than metanoia--conversion--from an old way of seeing the world, to a vision that recognizes God in all things.
The change won’t be easy: luckily, we have grace to guide us.