Of Mustard Seeds, Plants and Relationships
Our readings this weekend are filled with images of nature, of God’s creation, of our relationship to nature and the meanings and actions that provide invitations to us. After the February extended freeze, many of us wondered what would happen to our plants. How surprised we have been to discover the resilience of many of them. I wasn’t surprised then when I discovered this quote: “In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” Plants take care of us? Yes! Think about it! How has your faith been restored, nurtured, or even discovered anew through the flourishing of the natural world during the pandemic? Do you remember the revelation of colorful fish in now clear waters of the Venetian canals? The playfulness of undisturbed animal habitats? The clearing of once polluted skies?
When we hear the gospel about the mustard seed, we are invited to reflect on what great things come from the smallest of seeds, seeds that are one of the frequent images used in parables and other teaching stories. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, the source of the previous quote, is described by reviewers as instructive poetry. One review says:
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Awakening to a wider ecological consciousness requires a reciprocal relationship with all of the living world. Hearing the languages of other beings—all kinds of beings—is what St. Francis of Assisi was so attuned to, so aligned with! We have new invitations! Our work in restoring the relationships between humans and nature is urgent! Will the seeds planted in our hearts, desirous of right relationships, be like mustard seeds?