Songs of reciprocity

By Nienke Pruiksma


Bring in a little burning candle, a jar or jug of water and some seeds, native to your region, and a big container (or many small containers) with soil. If Lent is not a time for sowing in your context, bring slips of paper and pens instead.

A gathering prayer

As we gather today, we remember the words of St. Francis,
who, in his love for God and creation,
sang out his praise.
We also gather in lament
that this creation is suffering and at risk.

As we gather, we gather not just with those present,
but with all those who are and have been.
Those we know and love,
those we were blessed to know and love,
but with the knowledge that our knowledge is limited.
We gather with those whose lives are endangered,
or who have already been snuffed out
in the great extinction that we are living.

We gather with the plankton, with the creatures of the deep,
we gather with the tiniest of insects, with the bees,
we gather with the mosses and lichen,
with the ancient trees in the forest,
and the sapling newly planted.

We gather with the sun and the stars in the firmament,
the wind and rain,
the rivers, sea and oceans.
We gather with the empty wells,
and the rising waters.

We gather with our feet on the earth,
with our hands in the soil,
with our fists in the air in protest and anger,
with our hands joined in solidarity,
with our hands folded in prayer,
with our hands in the air in celebration.

We gather with our hearts full of love and hope,
but also with anger, concern, desperation or worry,
with our minds distracted by the complexities of our lives,
yet seeking your presence.

Come Holy Spirit, be with us now in this moment of gathering and always.
Bind us together in community, in commitment, in engagement,
to life in fullness for all creation.

A litany

For all those who perished in the struggle for climate justice
God have mercy

For all those on the brink of extinction
God have mercy

For all the water too polluted to give and sustain life
God have mercy

For the earth broken by mining and intensive farming
God have mercy

For all those who put their bodies and lives at risk for your creation
God have mercy

For the animals that have lost their habitat
God have mercy

For the oceans rising and gulf streams slowing down
God have mercy

For lands arid or exhausted
God have mercy

For ancient forests diminished and unable sustain their complex ecology
God have mercy

For people who despair, feel paralyzed, or are in denial
God have mercy

For islands and atolls that threaten to disappear
God have mercy

[Please, add concerns specific to your context to the litany.]

God, Creator, have mercy,
Christ, Redeemer, have mercy,
God, Sustainer, have mercy.

Suggestions for (Scripture) Readings

  • Genesis 2:4b-15; Psalm 104 or 148; John 12:22-24
  • St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun”
  • If the book is available to you, you could look into reading a section from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (such as the story about the herbalist and the guidelines in the chapter named “The honorable harvest”).
  • You could also connect to traditional narratives or Indigenous peoples’ cosmovision that emphasize reciprocity (not just between humans) in your context.


In the second creation narrative—which in biblical studies is considered the older creation narrative—the earth and waters already exist before God creates a human being. God does not create from nothing, but adds to what already exists. The human receives the gift of life through God’s breath. The living, breathing human being is then put in a garden with plants, animals, and a human partner in order for them to till it and keep it. What does tilling and keeping mean to us? Does it mean that it is ours to do with? Or does it mean to serve and to maintain the earth, like we are called to maintain God’s commandments? The Hebrew verbs used—abad and samar—suggest the latter.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Vall Kimmerer narrates how in Indigenous worldviews human beings often are considered the younger siblings in creation (p. 346-347). As such our duty is to learn from our elders the plants. She writes: “Plants were here first and have had a long time to figure things out. They live above and below ground and hold the earth in place. Plants know how to make food from light and water. Not only do they feed themselves, but they make enough to sustain the lives of all the rest of us. Plants are providers for the rest of the community and exemplify the virtue of generosity, always offering food. What if Western scientists saw plants as their teachers rather than their subjects? What if they told stories with that lens?”

She goes on to say that many Indigenous peoples share an understanding that every creature has received gifts or abilities. The question is: How do we respond to the gift we have been given? What and how do we give back? How do we live in reciprocity with all that is?

In my context of white Europeanness, plants and animals rank solidly below human beings. We have lost any sense that their thriving and ours are connected. The notion of learning from plants, sitting with the wisdom of plants, is thoroughly disorienting. If we’d really stop to consider it, it would be like pulling out the foundation stone to our carefully built tower of Babel. So, we mostly don’t. We keep relying on the idea/pipe dream of technological solutions. Or we deny and ignore the floods that are already washing over us, literally and figuratively. But is this meant by tilling the earth and keeping it, when we reap what is not ours? When others—be they human, animal, plant or the Earth’s resources—are exhausted and pay the price and we take away the future of next generations? Is that serving and maintaining the Earth and God’s commandments?

But what if we sit with the wisdom of plants? What if we learn from their gifts, emulate them as far as we as humans can, and give back? What if we dare to grow and give back? Not in splendid isolation at the top of creation, but as part of the whole, in order to sustain the whole.

It is not coincidental that a seed in fertile earth is a Christological metaphor. It is the sacrifice of the seed of Good Friday, the waiting and insecurity of Holy Saturday and the joy and relief that life grows, renews, and multiplies of Easter. It is in the breaking and sharing of life-sustaining food for the body and the soul that we celebrate. In reciprocal learning with plants, it is also a prophetic metaphor. The seeds we plant may be seeds of disruption, of transformation, of resistance, of hope, of unlearning and new learning, despair and/or tears. But in the planting, we act, we grow, we resist, transform, nourish, and reciprocate the gift of life, sharing resurrection.

As we plant, we pray—planting seeds, planting intercessions

In my region of the northern hemisphere, Lent is the time for sowing, for waiting for new life to come forth from the earth. Light is returning to wake us up, calling us forth into the world. Rain mostly is not lacking—although climate change is making periods of rain and lack of rain more pronounced. If Lent is not a time to plant in your context, can it be a time to sow, to grow in the dark, to break forth, to break through and away? To grow and to nourish, as we have learnt from our siblings the plants?

The community is invited to plant a seed in the soil provided. If it is not wise to plant at this time in the year for your region, people could write a word on a slip of paper that they then “plant.” If your community is open to it, you could ask people to offer intercessions as they plant. They could share what they have written down the word they would like to plant in a reciprocal act.

God, we give thanks for the gifts you have given us:
The stories we share, the bread we break,
the seeds they plant in us,
seeds that we nourish, that grow and nourish us,
that nourish your creation.
As we plant, we pray:

Creator God, hear our prayer

God, we ask that the plants teach us:
To live in reciprocity with all of creation,
to break through seemingly unbreakable structures,
to bring beauty and life in the most unlikely of places.
As we plant, we pray:

Creator God, hear our prayer

God, sustain us in our efforts to only take what we need,
to recognize you in our siblings in creation,
to not harm our siblings as we take for our sustenance,
and to be grateful for what was given—
so that we may give and sustain life.
As we plant, we pray:

Creator God, hear our prayer

[Community intercessions.]

God, our parent, you who birthed and sustains all creation,
As we plant, we pray to you the prayer Jesus taught us

Our Father…

A blessing of water and light

As we go from here, we ask God for a blessing,
so that we may be both blessed and a blessing.
May God bless you with gentle waters on your soil (pour water on soil with the seeds)
May God bless you with warming light (place the candle on top of the wet soil)
May God bless you and keep you so you maybe water and light for others
May God bless you with stories that nourish, that question
And may God bless you as you give back, resist and transform

Nienke Pruiksma is from the Netherlands and works with the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

This is the sixth in a series of Lenten devotionals focused on the climate crisis. Download the devotional booklet.

Image: Sean Hawkey/Life on Earth

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