Amazonia Synod 5: Spirituality and Wisdom

Pre-Synod Conference on the Amazon 

Columban representatives Scott Wright (left), Peter Hughes (right) and Amy Echeverria (centre) at the Pre-Synod Conference on the Amazon at Georgetown University with Archbishop Bernardito Auza and Luis Cardinal Tagle, from Manila.

Amy Woolam Echeverria writes: This is the fifth Columban article on October’s Synod on Amazonia, and the theme is taken from the Synod’s preparatory document. The author is the Columban Central JPIC Coordinator, based in the United States. She attended a preparatory meeting in March 2019 for the Synod at Georgetown University in Washington.

The magnetic pull of the full moon and birth pangs coaxed me to wake at 3 am. My daughter had reached her full gestation and was ready to emerge from the womb. Like ebbs and flows of ocean tides, breath and contractions synchronised to bring forth new life. Intensifying with each wave, I surrendered to the ancient wisdom contained in my body. People all around, I was only present to this force of light moving through me. Dar a luz, literally meaning to bring to light, is the Spanish language expression for giving birth which is said to be rooted in the Christian narrative of Mary giving birth to the Light of the World.

Just as the sun burst forth over the horizon and flooded the delivery room, my daughter made full entrance into the world, powerful and jubilant and the two great lights met in a kiss, each radiating forth on the other. In that moment of encounter between light from within and light from beyond, I felt myself drawn into the fullness of the universe story, connected with every living being, human and nonhuman that had ever lived, spiritually and biologically linked with the very Source of Life. I felt no separation between past, present, or future. Instead, time was replaced with process – the unfolding of life that is the same regardless of time or place. The full moon that greeted me in the dark night made way for the dawn of light. It was an experience of participating in the Bethlehem story and in co-creation with God.

I claim a cosmic Christian spirituality and Catholic tradition that is deeply rooted, though at times in history misinterpreted, in a Trinitarian communion of life that includes God, the human family, and all of Creation. I cannot claim to know, explain, or practice authentically an indigenous spirituality of the Amazon. And yet, it is the experience of birthing my daughter that came to me and I pondered when listening to my indigenous sisters and brothers from the Amazon recently at a conference in preparation for the Synod on the Amazon in October of this year. In the preparatory document for the Synod we can read that the Christian story and the multitude of indigenous stories are more closely linked than we might imagine,
Indigenous Christians of the Amazon region understand the invitation to the good life as a full life within the realm of the co-creation of the Kingdom of God. This good life will only be achieved when a common project in defence of life, the world, and all living things becomes a reality.

We hear in these words the echo of John’s gospel, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (JN 10:10) During the recent preparatory gathering for the Synod at Georgetown University, we heard repeatedly from Indigenous leaders a call to the institutional Church and the people of God to hear the cry of the people and the Earth such that we enter into an ecological conversion that recognises the intrinsic value of and chooses life for all people and creation.
Patricia Gualinga, a Kichwa leader from Sarayaku, Ecuador, noted that her community has been saying for centuries what Pope Francis talks about in Laudato Si’. To hear Patricia speak of her community’s ancient spiritual wisdom and how closely it echoed my own ancient Christian tradition brought a deep sense of communion for me as well as a question. How do we recover this original cosmic spirituality that is contained in both Hebrew and Christian scripture? Patricia, and many other voices from the Amazon, are awakening Christians to our own traditions and stories that have the non-human natural world not merely as backdrop to the salvation narrative, but integral to it. The Judaeo-Christian story is deeply woven with a sense of God’s covenant that includes the participation and well-being of all creation. From scripture to sacraments, from mystics of the middle ages to missionaries of the modern era, we are shedding a human-centred theology for one that is human-with-creation rather than human-over-creation.

Patricia was not alone in reminding us of how Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home is much like the ancient wisdom, spirituality and practice of indigenous peoples. Drawing on his country’s own story of immense environmental and ethnic diversity, Cardinal Bo of Myanmar spoke dramatically of a need for a green theology in the Church and an ecological conversion through which we reconnect with the counter-cultural Christ whom we’ve domesticated and buried. Making reference to scripture and Revelation, he called for a new heaven and new Earth with no more tears.
Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines pointed to Laudato Si’, Chapter 2, Section I, “The Light Offered by Faith” to make a key point that the Church must be open to be in dialogue with other religions, with a variety of fields of study and to learn from their insights. He quoted in particular the Church’s need to, “Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality” (LS, #63). Pope Francis is constantly reminding us of the healing and reconciling power that comes when we respect and even celebrate each other’s differences. Humility is the scaffolding of respect.

The Amazon is frequently referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet” as a way to spark our sense of global humanity and integral ecology. We might extend this image to say that the Synod on the Amazon is a kind of new baptism for the Church, a moment to remind ourselves of our baptismal call to Christian discipleship that defends and protects life. In hearing the cry and song of our indigenous sisters and brothers through the Synod process, we tap in to our own Creation story that is filled with dialogue between the human and non-human natural world. In listening to the other we grow more authentically into our own Christian identity as a people committed to building a world of justice, peace, dialogue, care for creation, inclusivity, unity, and above all, love.
We all have moments in our lives, like my daughter’s birth, when we feel both the immensity and intimacy of life tightly wound together. The Synod on the Amazon is one of those moments in the life of the Church – a moment when the Church, the people of God, and all of Creation are totally universal and utterly unique at the same time. This paradox is not a puzzle, but an invitation into the Paschal Mystery. The lungs of the planet, the people of the Amazon, the Synod on the Amazon, are all inviting us to let go of greed, violence, exclusion, so that we can be resurrected more fully in to our Christian story of faith, hope and love in God, one another and all of Creation.