The Amazon has been burning now for weeks, and the American news media has only just started to notice. The news hit my social media sometime last weekend because I specifically follow many activist groups in Brazil facing off against Bolsonaro’s facism. It more broadly hit everywhere else today, August 21. Along with that, comes the hashtag “PrayforAmazonia” and the inevitable comparisons with Notre Dame. This is a way to drive the point home–what is sacred, after all–but misleading.
The Amazon rainforest doesn’t just act like the lungs of the world, absorbing tons of environmental CO2 and producing roughly 20% of the O2 available in our atmosphere from moment to moment. It also regulates its own weather patterns, nurtures millions of species discovered and unknown, and is the actual, cultural, and mythic home of countless indigenous groups. The Amazon is also one of the center stages for the environmental fight of the century, and the subject of one of the most harrowing predictions of the ongoing climate crisis: at some point, this century, it will give way to a savanna grassland and eventually disappear all-together like many desertified environments in Africa. After the final death of the Great Barrier Reef, the ruins of the Amazon Rain Forest will be one of the most iconic tombstones of our ecocidal species. This century.
Or perhaps this decade. Under Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, deforestation of the Amazon is seen as a pathway to “economic development” (read: extractionist policies designed to glut the wealthy and destroy the livelihoods of indigenous people, while forcing millions of poverty stricken Brazilians to shoulder the costs of a degraded environment). Bolsonaro refers to the tens of thousands of fires raging across Amazonia as tactics of NGOs to put pressure on his government, indeed, he refers to the whole thing as “this war”. Under his leadership, the land is being stripped bare for various commercial enterprises, while the world suffocates under heatwaves, glaciers melt at record pace, and the permafrost burns in the Arctic.
What are we praying for, then? How do we act upon the hashtag?
Obviously, we re-post and re-Tweet. Awareness is a necessary component in this struggle for environmental and social justice. But when asked to specifically act–through prayer–one must have clearly defined goals. One must know who the prayers are going to and what they are for. Are we to pray for the fires to be put out, but ignore the capitalist devastation of the natural world that otherwise enables them? Are we to pray for the environment, even as we contribute to an outsized carbon footprint greater than the average Brazilian? Are we to pray for the endangered species, even while we allow our own Bolsonaro (Trump) to shred the Endangered Species Act? Are we to pray for forgiveness, because we continue to allow these things to happen?
The Amazon Rain Forest is a vast, interconnected, interdependent, gloriously complex ecosystem. It is also a Sovereign Spirit of the natural world. It is the Mother Earth of its native peoples, and those colonizers who’ve grown to love it and call it home. It is worthy of our prayers, not on its behalf, but addressed directly to Her. How, then, shall we pray?
One in every five breaths contains oxygen expired there. As with most spiritual matters, perhaps that is where we begin: pouring love and begging forgiveness into every fifth breath. Then, we deepen our consciousness and set down roots into its tropical soil, like its many trees laced together in community. Rooted in this spiritual soil, we take in the blessings of water all the way to the leaves of our consciousness, unfolding to take in direct, equatorial sunlight. Within tiny cells, like monks, we witness and celebrate the photosynthetic miracle of life, sweet on our pallets. We follow glucose on its journey through forms “most beautiful and most wonderful” until it cycles again, through death and digestion, into our very flesh. In some ways, we fashion the flesh of the worth from one out of five breaths.
And when we open our eyes again, we gather our wits and powers and act this blessing into the world. We find ways to donate, to share, to uplift, to shift consciousness, and to work a charm of powerful trouble. Because Amazonia does not need our prayers, really. Amazonia needs us to #RiseUp and fight the road to extinction we’ve paved through the wilderness.