To make a basket

Making baskets seems to be a good topic this close to Easter. I am re-reading the book “Braiding Sweetgrass”  by Robin Kimmerer. I just finished the chapter where the author was learning to make a basket from John Pigeon, a Potawatomi basket maker. She described going with him to choose the black ash tree, felling it, followed by the hours of scraping and peeling long, thin strips (splints) from the trunk, and finally learning to weave those splints into baskets. The author was excited to begin the weaving part, but the teacher paused to remind her, “Just think of the tree and all its hard work before you start,” he said. “It gave its life for this basket, so you know your responsibility. Make something beautiful in return.” (p. 152)  At other times he would caution, “Slow down—it’s thirty years of a tree’s life you’ve got in your hands there. Don’t you owe it a few minutes to think about what you’ll do with it?” (p.155)

So I’m thinking about what happens in Holy Week in another week or so. (Okay, it’s my job to plan ahead, I know.)  I will finish up my Lenten discipline—or continue it because I have learned its value as a practice.  But what else?  In the weaving of the planning, can I slow down as the basket maker invites?  Can I pace myself to make room to think of Christ and how he gave his life for us—without writing the next sermon in my head?   I usually suggest to the congregation to slow down in Holy Week, to honor Christ’s life for them, to step away from other tasks to worship Thursday, Friday and Sunday, to listen to the well-known gospel, to remember again the mystery.  Will I do that too?

I am also beginning to notice Jesus’ words at the last supper—planing ahead.  I hear them differently after reading about ash trees and basket makers.  I hear echoes of an indigenous wisdom’s bid for  reciprocity to “make something beautiful in return.” After washing feet, Jesus  says, “As I have loved you, so you also ought to love one another.” Isn’t that an invitation to reciprocity? Am I giving as I am receiving?

I want to argue that my love for neighbor will never be as beautiful as Jesus’ love for us.   Jesus must have known, however, that grateful, sharing hearts could in some measure honor the gift of Christ’s life; that we could be more flexibly woven into loving another, that small steps in the way of reciprocity are a cause for celebration.  Even if I can only manage a response of love that is imperfect,  even if I attempt to wall off my share of Christ’s reciprocal love sometimes, even if I find myself shutting down in introverted self-protection, reciprocal love doesn’t keep tabs and doesn’t keep measure. It just keeps flowing.

And so with another Holy Week approaching, the mystery Christ’s living love cycles round again.  It pulls me back into God’s self-giving presence.  It carries me through the rich biblical stories of slavery to freedom, destruction to healing, betrayal to peace, death to life. It woos me, weaves me ever deeper into this beautiful but demanding risk of reciprocal love:  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  What will my basket of reciprocity look like on the other side of Holy Week?

You can see some of the baskets crafted in gratitude for the lives of black ash trees on Facebook at “Pigeon Family Baskets & Cultural Arts.”