Take only what you need
“Take only what you need. Take only that which is given.”
These are just some of the beautiful words found in the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She is a mother, a scientist, decorated professor and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and she points to the power of stories to in her words, “nurture our becoming people made of corn.” This idea exists in many indigenous cultures, that all the grains, all peoples scattered, when gathered together thrive because their health is dependent on the other. When a robust ear of corn is grown, the whole earth is robust, the ground and the soil can be made whole, the creatures, the elders, the children, the whole community. It is about the wholeness of the whole.
Professor Wall Kimmerer seeks to bring science and spirit back together in part because of the healing of our planet is at stake. Science in some respects has become disjointed, disconnected from not just the from the Pulse of the Universe, but from the wisdom of the natural world and of God’s creation, from the wisdom of those who have gone before us, those who lived here before us, those who have a right to be here still.
Yesterday, we hosted the workshop called Roots of Injustice: Seeds of Change where we heard the truth, in small and powerful parts, tracing the painful history of the arrival of European colonists and settlers, to this continent, the native peoples called Turtle Island.
A core takeaway was that it is necessary to speak the truth, even now it is not too late. Many of us received a whitewashed, sanitized version of American history and that continues to inflict harm on native peoples who are living today. And because many people don’t know the true history, it still has power over of us and some of these patterns are being repeated. Perhaps the first step toward right relationship with native peoples, with our God and with all creation is to speak the truth.
Right here, we are on the land within the territories of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. We are in a landscape that is the ancestral homeland of 48 contemporary tribal nations, historically tied to the lands that make up the state of Colorado. We must not forget this. Not just for the healing of our communities, but for the healing of all of creation.
Because even after 500 years of struggle, slaughter and suffering, native peoples are still here- the stories, ceremonies and traditions have survived and I believe that in addition to speaking the truth and showing up and honoring treaties andchanging policies and park names, we must listen. We must learn and listen to indigenous writers, thinkers and speakers. I believe that the wisdom protected by ancient stories of native peoples and the guidance found in these sacred cycles of life will lead us to where we need to go.
If the first step toward right relationship with all creation is speaking the truth, the second step is for us human beings is to be humbled. Restoring right relationship means seeing ourselves not as rulers, but learners, participants and caretakers.
Professor Wall Kimmerer writes, “In the indigenous view, humans are viewed as somewhat lesser beings in the democracy of species. We are referred to as the younger brothers of Creation, so like younger brothers we must learn from our elders. Plants were here first and have had a long time to figure things out. They live both above and below ground and hold the earth in place. Plants know how to make food from light and water. Not only do they feed themselves, but they make enough to sustain the lives of all of the rest of us. Plants are providers for the rest of the community and exemplify the virtue of generosity, always offering food. What if western scientists saw plants as their teachers rather than their subjects? What if they told stories with that lens?” 1
The Western perspective guided by market driven solutions and the might of military force has prioritized the needs, ideas and fears of some human beings above everything else. This has meant a taking and a taking and a taking. Killing cultures along with creation.
We have organized much of modern life around the core myths of human superiority and the supremacy of western ideas that include violence, individualism, consumerism and oppression. In the words of our own Janet Hoaglund, we have treated nature as a slave, colonizing and killing for profit and for power.
There is no doubt that we are not in right relationship, things are unbalanced.
And yet, white settlers and European dreamers cloaked in the Doctrine of Discovery could not entirely silence or kill the truth held by native peoples in song and ceremonies and in a love for the land.
The way to healing for the biosphere is already here among us if we look to the land and those who love the land: What if we started seeing plants as our teachers rather than our subjects? What if we sought wisdom from the soil and from the sweetgrass? What if emulated them instead of destroying them? What if we listened to the wisdom of indigenous peoples?
As Professor Wall Kimmerer seeks to bring science and spirit together, she points out that plants are providers for their whole community. Plants make sure all are fed. At a cellular level, plants seem more evolved than we are- they are generous and creative, distributing what is needed to all. Look to the land.
Perhaps the third step toward right relationship is to listen and learn from the earth. We are offered an invitation from those who listen to the land and also to listen and learn from the land itself.
Listening to the land teaches patience and it shows us that right relationship, balance, reconciliation and wholeness, does not come from a huge one time shift, rather it is often a series of powerful, indirect interactions that modify the whole system over time.
Our community is filled with scientists, so I am guessing that some of you have heard of the concept of a trophic cascade. This is the term for what happens in nature when even a seemingly small introduction of something different can dramatically change the entire ecosystem.
[A video was shown offering an example found in Yellowstone Park.]
Let us speak the truth. See our place in the order of the Cosmos. Listen to the land.
“Take only what you need. Take only that which is given. Never take more than half. Leave some for others.”
Perhaps working toward being in right relationship with the peoples and the places, between our past and our present, is something like the trophic cascade. It’s not a one time, right now, all healed event. “Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.” Right relationship might just be a series of intentional, prayerful and powerful, indirect interactions that modify the entire system with the flow of time. Our wholeness, our balance, our healing is connected, so take only what you need because we belong to one another and to all of creation. May it be so.
1Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer P. 146-147