I don’t believe in a god, but last Saturday, I got chills harvesting cinquefoil seeds to sow into the prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery.
“I was not raised Christian,” Sister Denise told us as we stood on the wooden platform overlooking the lake. It was an uncommonly beautiful fall day, at least for a Texan. It was cold, but the sky was a brilliant blue without a cloud in sight. The sun shone steadily from when we arrived to the moment our bus pulled away. There was a breeze that tugged the tops of the trees surrounding us and made the prairie grasses bend and bow and shimmer.
“As Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about in Braiding Sweetgrass, we believe people have a relationship to the land,” Sister Denise went on.
It was not a new idea. I’d most recently thought about it in an article on environmental justice I read for a Gender Studies class. But hearing it here, on the prairie, surrounded by trees and tall grasses, was different than reading about it in a classroom. As I stood in the field and carefully clipped each individual cinquefoil seed pod off of the stalk and into my bag, gratitude began to fill me. I thought about how the plant was trusting its seeds, its offspring, to me. And just as the seeds were the offspring of the plant, so too was I the offspring of the Earth. I thought about how the seeds, and the worms in the soil that would help them grow, and the birds that would eat them, and the animals that would eat the birds, were all my kin.
Love is in the early mornings, in the shadows under the trees.
The cinquefoil plant placed the seeds into my care, and as I committed the violent act of cutting the pods from the rest of the plant, I simultaneously promised to gingerly lay the seeds back into the Earth. I was honored to care for them and wanted to treat them with the same love the Earth had given me.
“I walked our property here by myself, over and over, trying to figure out my relationship to spirituality,” Sister Denise said, looking up at the trees. “And eventually, I started to notice this presence.”
Not a god as in a being, but god as in Being. Each time a gust of wind blew through, it felt like a deep exhale of the Earth. The way that the trees continued to grow over the past 70 years since the monastery was built. The way the prairie grasses bowed up and down in the wind. The way we could hear the insects buzzing, and found some crawling over the seed pods we had harvested. We didn’t have to try to clear them out of our bags, because we knew we would be returning everything—the insects, the seeds, any dirt or twigs we’d collected—back to the Earth.
Down here I crow for you, you crow for me.
This work of harvesting and sowing the seeds, cultivating both the Earth herself and our relationship to her, became a form of meditation. A way of saying thank you, and of strengthening our bond.
In one Native American creation story, Sky Woman Falling, referenced in Kimmerer’s book, animals like the muskrat and the snapping turtle help save a woman who has fallen from the sky into a world of water. The turtle supports her on his back, and the muskrat gives his life getting mud from the ocean floor for the woman to make land out of. In return, the woman dances North America into existence and gives the animals plants and roots and seeds to live off of with her. This generosity and gift-giving in mutual reciprocity is the foundation of Indigenous relationships to the earth, which I think a lot of the rest of us have lost or have actively tried to take away. Rather than see the Earth as something I have to wrestle into submission, as in the Old Testament creation story of Eve being banished from the garden and having to make a living on her own, I want to see the Earth as my kin.
I will remember the gratitude and connection I felt standing in the prairie and taking care of my cousins the seeds and the birds and the trees.