Native peoples in the Americas understand the universe as alive and sentient. All phenomena in it are understood to be a distinct expression of life force, or spirit. Since all persons – human and other-than-human – such as plants, animals, rivers, winds, and mountains are expressions of spirit, they are understood to be interconnected and contingent.
Mothers like Hagar who bear the weight of racism in the wilderness (Genesis 21:14) are always on the verge of losing their children—inferiorized by racist prejudice. These mothers’ voices are crying out, “Do not let me look on the death of the child” (Genesis 21:16).
These questions of environmental justice become even more urgent in the face of our current crisis, as we see the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the same communities who suffer the most from other environmental harms.
A search for origins is also always a search for meaning. In a time of political crisis such as ours, when origin narratives are especially tempting, fresh reminders of their limitations and violent potential are welcome.