I’ve been reading with fascination a book called, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a botanist and a native American woman of the Potawatomi Nation. And then I came across these words which stopped me In my tracks: ”For me writing is an act of reciprocity with the world. It is what I can give back in return everything that’s been given to me.” Tears came to my eyes as I read these two sentences, because my writing, my purpose, is giving back to God all that He has given to me. All I would change in that quote is the world, to me the reciprocity is with God. It is what I can give back in return for everything that He has given to me.” Gratitude, devotion, and pursuing my purpose is how I give back to God all that He has given me.
I had never thought of my writing in that way until I read what she had written. And I am so grateful for seeing that so clearly. In defining our purpose in life for us, God gives us fulfillment and the fruit of the Spirit. In pursuing what He calls us to, we are giving back to God what He needs us to do in the world; we live in gratitude for a purposeful life and all it encompasses; we are His.
The author’s reciprocity with the Earth also struck me. She, in the Native American tradition, is grateful for all that the earth offers in the way of food and shelter, beauty and love. And so, they give back to the Earth in gratitude for what is given to them. Again, there is the reciprocity that we could learn a lot from given this age of Global Warming and lack of community. How can we treat the Earth which provides all that we need in a way that is harmful to our home here? How can we get back to being a community in this land? These are the questions for this day, this time.
It is the same with all relationships we enjoy. We are giving back to others what they have given to us—attention, love, truth, whatever. This is the nature of a community which is the foundation of the kingdom of God. We are giving to others as they are giving to us. Now, each of us does it in our own way and timing, but every relationship is reciprocal. And that is why there are tribes and ethnic groups and nations and all the various groups we human beings form or are a part of in our lifetimes. We live not just in proximity to others, but in relationship to each other. And the more we are defined by our communities, the more we thrive.
Today in our country we are so devoted to individualism that we have lost a huge sense of community, the knowledge that what one has and does benefits us all. The materialism that rules our culture has made us only concerned about ourselves, our families and circles of friends. We deny the needs of the neighborhood, our city, our state, and our country, because we are only really interested in acquiring the things that we want. We are competing with everyone else to get there first, with the best. What we have lost is tremendous: we have lost the reciprocity of human communities; we have given up our shared heritage and concerns in order to gain more for ourselves. We have lost any gratitude that we might have had previously for what we have been given, for what this Earth provides us, for how we can help others in our communities, because it is now only about me and mine and what we want.
Isn’t that what we’ve done with Christianity, too? It’s all about my belief in God and less about the community of the church or the kingdom. It’s all about my salvation in the next life and has nothing to do with this life. It’s all about me and not about the other 7+ billion children of God on this planet. It’s all about me and not at all about what we’re doing to the planet as regards global warming or how we treat our neighbors.
What God calls us to is reciprocity—His love for us and our love for Him and His ways. To take care of our neighbors, whoever they may be. To be like Jesus in this world, loving the people we meet—our neighbors, no matter who they are—poor, crippled, outcasts, the marginalized of His day. He didn’t acquire things; He didn’t hang out much with the leaders of His day. He met with the neediest and helped them. He taught about love and forgiveness. He wasn’t about taking care of himself, He was teaching His disciples how to be helpful to those who really needed help, how to love, how to live in this world as a disciple of His. Are we disciples? Or merely believers? Do we seek His counsel or only our own interpretation of who we are and what we are to do in this world? Who is really at the center of our lives? God or ourselves?
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I giving back to God all that He has given me? What does reciprocity with God mean to me? Has He named the purpose for my life? If not, have I prayed about it to God?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God whose love for God shows up in how much we are giving back to God in return for all that He has given us. May our love for God show up everywhere we go.
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- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.