Christians have to stop demonizing the things that we do not understand. I’m thinking specifically of the anti-sage or even more general anti-herbal healing campaigns all around us. I wonder where such strong feelings against herbal healing originate? When we speak against the natural healing power of herbs not only are we denying the greatness, the fullness, the completion of God’s creation – think of the Garden of Eden – we are also negating, dismissing, erasing all of the knowledge that our ancestors brought with them through the Middle Passage and kept alive throughout enslavement across the Americas so that we could be healed today.
What I hear Christians often say is I don’t need nothing but Jesus, and I don’t know if we realize how antithetical to the gospel sentiments like that actually are. When Jesus rose from the grave he commanded his disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV). In articulating the Great Commission, Jesus highlights how he works in community with the Father and the Holy Spirit; in other words, Jesus is not alone. If all we needed was Jesus, something tells me Jesus would have said so.
One of the things that strikes me about Jesus’ ministry and teachings is the focus on the natural world. Using parables about seeds, soil, and water Jesus makes plain God’s love for humanity and what we can do to be in right relationship with God. Jesus even used elements of the natural world to perform healing, although we know his words alone are powerful enough to heal. In John 9:6-7 we see that Jesus gave a blind man vision by spitting on the dirt to make mud, rubbing the mud on the man’s eyes, and instructing him to rinse off with water in a nearby pool. In the aftermath the man, who had been born blind, was able to see. I often wonder about this miracle and the purpose it serves in teaching about Jesus. Jesus did not look at the man and say, “now, see!” He didn’t lay hands on the man and command him to open his eyes. Jesus, who was present as the universe was being formed, who knew the wonders of Eden and its garden intimately, knew a thing or two about dirt. In this moment, Jesus took what he knew about soil and applied it to perform a healing. My mind wonders, What was in that dirt? What was growing in the Earth there that supplied the soil with healing properties?
As a gardener I pay a lot of attention to dirt. I know that certain plants will thrive in the right soil, but will perish in other soil. I know that the soil is changed by what is planted in it. That the roots of the plant will both feed off of and feed the soil allowing it to grow. And so I wonder what it was that Jesus was accessing when he bent down to make mud from his saliva and the dirt. I wonder what minerals were there. I wonder what root had been growing to change the composition of that soil. I wonder what Jesus knew. And so when I think about the ways that I’ve seen Christians, especially Black Christians, demonize knowledge of herbs and their use for healing I can’t help but wonder where that comes from. It makes me wonder, rhetorically, who taught us that knowledge of herbs and traditional forms of healing was not of Jesus? The Jesus who was presented with frankincense and myrrh when he was born – incense from trees with healing properties. The Jesus who lived at a time without access to an internist or ER doctor in the face of medical emergencies. The Jesus who very likely knew which herbs to take to heal a sore, cure a cough, or calm a headache.
So when I think about where we are as Black people in the Americas and all of the things that we are carrying with us – the generational trauma and the present violence that is continuously inflicted on our bodies, our collective psyche and spiritual selves I recognize that we are in need of healing practices and processes. And as followers of the Christ we look to Jesus for direction, understanding and knowledge. What I know to be true about Jesus is that he knew him something about some soil. Look at the parables and the comparisons Jesus makes to dirt, seeds, growth, and water to teach his message – so much of it centered on ecology. Jesus used that knowledge of the Earth to teach and to heal. Our ancestors across the Americas did the very same thing. At a time when access to Medical Care was non-existent for Black people, enslaved Africans resorted to their knowledge of herbs and roots to bring healing to the sick, to doctor wounds, to purify the air and the body. Some of that knowledge continues to live on today, and it’s this wisdom that we can tap into – while following Jesus – to help us heal from the trauma we’re born with and the violence we experience every single day here in exile.
Healing takes many forms. It’s being in constant communication with God through prayer, but that’s only one layer. We can clear out our physical spaces with the use of incense. Sage, for example, is an incense that purifies the air. At a time where we’re plagued with airborne illness clean air to breathe is essential. Sage can also reduce stress and anxiety. Many herbs are also packed with antioxidants, and contain important vitamins and minerals like D and iron – supplements that Black folks in particular should prioritize taking because of widespread deficiencies. Aromatic herbs like lavender and mint are helpful to scent your space as well as to drink as tea; both are calming and have healing properties as well. The amount of racism, transantagonism, sexism, misogynoir, homoantagonism, classism, ableism and other inequities we face on a daily basis are enough to tear our bodies down. We pray, we lay hands, we sing and dance in praise – all forms of healing. There’s power in leaves, too. The entire Bible is a story of a people being called back to their ancestor’s ways. How did we get to a place where we despise ours?
It is my hope that on our journey to collective healing we remember that God, “made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” (Genesis 2:9, NRSV) and told Adam that he, “may freely eat of every tree in the garden;” (2:16). The only prohibition was against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not sage or any other leaf that grows on earth. I wonder what impact it would have if Christians rallied against child abuse or poverty the way some of us go hard against some sage.