Strawberries shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward, you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears.
Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth.
That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. The fields made a gift of berries to us and we made a gift of them to our father. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes. This is hard to grasp for societies steeped in notions of private property, where others are, by definition, excluded from sharing.
The essence of a gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 27-28
Thanksgiving has come and gone. We gave thanks for the food placed on the table and for the family or friends who shared it with us.
In our culture giving thanks can feel forced: I remember how my brothers and cousins and I hated to be asked to say grace at Grandma’s house. When we have not been taught, it can be difficult for us to understand that nothing is ours by right. We did not create sweet potatoes or pumpkins or turkeys. We never had the right to own any part of the American land. The Indians were willing to share it with us because they had no concept of ownership. It was our ancestors who built fences and believed they had the right to kill those who crossed the boundary lines they created.
We have been taught that everything we have is ours because we and our ancestors worked hard for it. I do not doubt that my ancestors worked hard. The question is not who worked and who didn’t.
The question is whether or not we can recognize that life is a gift from beginning to end.
The worldview described in Braiding Sweetgrass is not new to me. I have recognized its survival in customs of gift-giving in rural Crete and have been reading and writing about it in a variety of contexts for years. But having read Braiding Sweetgrass just before the 2018 US midterm elections, I found myself making connections. It seems all too clear that the sickness in American political life is rooted in a fundamental forgetting that life is a gift and that no one of us has the right to own anything at all.
When I look at those who support Trump and Trumpism, I see people who are afraid of losing what they have. They fear that others will take it from them. I see the same mean spirit in the eyes of many of my neighbors in Lesbos who refuse to let refugees fleeing war set foot in our village.
I am sitting in a beautiful house that I was able to buy ibecause I worked hard and because my parents and grandparents worked hard. I have no desire to deny the hard work that brought me to where I am today.
But it is also true that I have no right to own this house. In fact, I have no right to own any of the things I call mine. I myself and all of my ancestors in America built our lives on land taken from the Indians. Though we buy it in stores, all of the food that we eat is at the deepest level a gift from mother earth and interdependent life.
Robin Wall Kimmerer tells us that “The essence of a gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.”
What would and could our lives become if we lived every moment of every day in that knowledge?
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s interview with Mary Hynes on Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parilament of World’s Religions.