Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Christine V. Hides
The Giant River Otter
Thursday, March 14, 2024

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.
Meister Eckhart

The Giant River Otter

There are multiple indigenous legends about South American giant river otters. It is easy to imagine these 70 lb. creatures might be canoes for a goddess or that they once traded places with the jaguar to live on water instead of land. If you’ve ever seen a sea otter you know how playful and affectionate their river-dwelling cousins can be. Gayle Boss writes about their adorable family life where otter families sing their very “tone poem.” They also have an alarm sound but only otters who have encountered humans will sound it when people get near.

Giant river otters are found in the northern part of South America in countries like Guyana and Suriname. Countries where gold mining, fueled by the increased price of this precious metal globally, is the cause of deforestation and the release of poisonous mercury into the soil and water. Guyana alone produces thirty-eight tons of mercury pollution per year.

Theologian and activist Sarah Augustine has advocated for the Indigenous people of Suriname since 2004. There the native people had limited rights to the resources like gold, that were being extracted, and contaminating their communities. Sarah’s work led her to advocate for dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th century document that is “a fundamental historical basis and legal precedent for the idea that Christians enjoy a moral and legal right based solely on their religious identity to invade and seize indigenous lands and to dominate Indigenous Peoples.” The World Council of Churches (which is illuminated in Kenilworth Union’s narthex entry window) ratified a statement regarding the doctrine authored and presented by Augustine in 2012. 

Augustine’s work comes from her faithful call to follow Jesus. She lifts up the prophet Amos, who spoke of God’s displeasure with a society where the poor are trampled on, and lavish, empty gifts are offered in religious ceremonies. What God desires is justice in places where the Giant River Otter dwells, where soil, water, and air are poisoned by far away and insatiable desires for luxury items, like jewelry and electronics.

Fortunately there are organizations working to undo the harm. Augustine continues to work with denominations committed to a life-giving theology for all creation. Maybe you would read her book The Land is Not Empty with me? Organizations like PlanetGOLD are working with Guyana to achieve mercury free mining by 2025. This gold will be branded so that consumers can choose an option that benefits river otters and humans.

Let us join the prophet in praying for what God’ desires:
let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. —Amos 5:24

Ideas for reducing consumption of limited resources from our church eco-champions:
Use only what you need to use, George P.

Buy less, Carol B.

Make sure trash can’t be recycled before throwing it away, Annie R.

Repair broken things instead of just replacing them, Katie L.

Join the Buy Nothing Group to give and receive items and keep out of the landfill, Christine H.

March 14, 2024

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