Sweetgrass and Grace

Sweetgrass is used by certain Native American tribes as a kind of incense. Dried and braided, lit and snuffed, it smoulders with a sweet smoke that is used in ‘smudging’, blessing a person and making a space for prayer. I had the good fortune to worship on the reservation several times when I was in the US and smudging always feels to me like washing your spirit in the sweet smoke. My smudging ‘stick’ has long expired but I still treasure the story of its picking. It was given to me by a friend from the Oregon Province of the Jesuits, JK Adams, and he told me about being taken out to pick sweetgrass while he was supplying as priest in Browning, Montana (I think–it might have been Heart Butte).

It’s not something you do lightly and the places where sweetgrass grows are not bandied about. You go at invitation and you go with some ritual and intent but not in a ponderous way. When you reach the place you ask that you might be able to see and find the unassuming grass. And then the hard part begins. It’s hard because its so easy. You mustn’t look for the sweetgrass. If you look for it you don’t find it. JK swears this is how it is. You have to be there and to walk around carefully not looking for the sweetgrass and if you are lucky you will glimpse some from the corner of your eye and then you can cut some. But you can’t make it appear by hunting for it. It has to come to you and show itself. It will not be possessed.

This is all on my mind after talking with another friend of mine about prayer. We both have a tendency to hunt for God–to feel uneasy when God just gives Godself. But God won’t be hunted. If you go looking, thinking to make God appear with your clever ways of praying, you’ll be frustrated. But God is there waiting to be seen once you manage to stop looking, waiting to give himself once you stop trying to make him yield. You have to be there in the field not looking if you want to find. And its a delight when you do, a gift, a blessing.

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