Gift Economy

Gift Economy

Grace and peace

I have recently, and ever so briefly, been introduced to Robin Wall Kimmerer – author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Elizabeth Gilbert describes the book as: “A hymn of love to the world”. I say Amen to that!

Kimmerer describes herself as a “plant scientist, and … I am also a poet and the world speaks to me in metaphor”.

When asked, as a first year student, why she wanted to study botany, she answered: “Because goldenrod and asters are so beautiful together, and I want to know why. I want to know why these stand together. Why do they grow together and look so beautiful when they could grow apart?” Her advisor was dismayed: “That’s not science.” And he said, “You should go to art school if you want to study beauty.” Narrow single lens perspectives can be quite tyrannical! We see what we see according to the lenses through which we see. Today’s modern world privileges the scientific over the poetic, yet something special is bound to happen when the lenses of science and art love each other as neighbours. This is also true when studying the Scriptures.

Looking through the incredibly ancient yet beautifully fresh lens of indigenous wisdom, Kimmerer speaks of a “gift economy”. She writes, “Plants know how to make food from light and water, and then they give it away” and that what “my scientific community sometimes call ‘natural resources’ are what Native people call gifts”.

She continues: “And that language of thinking about them as gifts rather than natural resources is really, I think, very important because they … When we are given a gift, we know what to do about that, right? When we take natural resources, we take them without consequences when we call them natural resources. Well, they’re ours; they’re our property. We can do with them as we wish. But when we think about what the world gives us as gifts, not as stuff that we’re taking, but as gifts that are given, that engenders a whole different relationship to the living world, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, it invites gratitude, not expectation that I’ll get more and more and more, but gratitude for what I have been given. It generates a kind of self-restraint in return for that gift. When you know it’s a gift, it somehow makes you less greedy and more satisfied and appreciative of what you have.

The other way in which we know when we’re given a gift—yes, we want to be thankful; we want to be respectful to that gift. But when we’re given a gift, it also opens the door to reciprocity, to say, “In return for this gift, I want to give something back,” and that’s the gift-giving economy. It’s based not on an exchange of property, but an exchange based on reciprocity, so that in return for what’s given we want to give something back in return, which means we need to engage one another not anonymously, but as individual beings to consider what it is that we have to give to each other.”

The ‘Gift’ lens is another name for the Jesus lens. For those who have eyes to see…

Grace,
Alan


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