By Randy Woodley
As a follower of Jesus from a Keetoowah Indian heritage, my “canon” consists of Scripture, creation, and the “Native American Old Testament” (God’s revelation to Native People through generations of culture and tradition.)
The Keetoowah account of “The Origins of Disease and Medicine” begins with all creation, including human beings, living in harmony with one another and the Creator. They were all equal and everything was very good. The problem arises when the humans overcrowded the rest of creation, disrupt the harmony, begin to overconsume, and become ungrateful. Ingratitude naturally follows greed. The humans believed they could have more resources than anyone else, causing there to be a great imbalance to the world. Christians would describe this greed as sin. Native Americans generally refer to it as broken harmony. The key assumption of the Keetoowah tale is that, when humans have broken harmony with creation, they have broken harmony with the Creator.
With this Indigenous origin story in mind let us recall the narrative of Genesis 1 and 2. God creates everything and calls it not just good, but “really good” (Hebrew tov ma-ov). Every creature and living system is excellent, in right order and as it should be: embodying shalom. The Genesis account of creation purposefully shows the Creator taking time to fashion this harmonious cosmos.
God begins work with the celestial water, space and sky and then creates the terrestrial waters and the earth, including the plants, trees, and fruits. Next, God watches the seeds from those plants bear in kind. After that the Creator sets the celestial and the terrestrial in rhythm and balance as night and day; as summer, fall, winter, and spring; and as months and years. The waters are then filled with fish and the skies with birds, which all increase. Finally, after bringing animals into being, the Creator speaks human beings, both male and female, into existence.
One gets the sense from this Genesis account that the Creator enjoyed making the world. The work of creation was neither impetuous nor hurried, but deliberate and thoughtful, stretched out over time in order for the Creator to receive maximum pleasure. God’s creation-work is leisurely and sedate, unlike most Western capitalist modes of industrial creation. It is also remarkably diverse, unlike the homogeneity of today’s mass produced systems. Each part of creation is differentiated, unique and fruitful, multiplying after its own kind. And yet, each part is incomplete without the whole; everything exists in interdependent relationships. The celestials regulate the balance of the terrestrials. The night compels all creation to rest as it brings refreshing coolness. The day provides new life and opportunities like warmth for plants, animals and humans. The moon regulates the water. The sun regulates the seasons. The seasons regulate annual activities. Everything is in harmony, in the balance with each other and with the Creator. It is a picture of a creation in community, a picture in which the audience is being asked to see both the beauty and symmetry of many parts in relations to the whole.
The Genesis and Keetoowah stories agree that there is an interconnectedness of everything God has made. Each part of the created whole comes from the unique mind of the Creator. Each works in relationship with the other, connected through their common origin and location in the universe, with the well-being of all at the center. In both stories, this community of creation seems very good—so good that in Genesis 1 there is a pause after the sixth day in order to celebrate the way things are. In Australia the Aboriginal Rainbow Elders say the Creator sang on the seventh day, meaning there was a community gathering where celebration was the only priority. This seventh-day creation party acknowledged that everything was living harmoniously: this was God’s wonderful and intricate shalom, the Harmony Way.
The biblical text is also clear that human beings have a special role as “stewards” of creation, or what I call “creation keepers.” (In Native communities, a “keeper” of a particular ceremony or tradition is someone who has been properly trained for that task, who has been entrusted with it by the community, and who maintains that responsibility through knowledge, experience and practice). We see this, for example, in God’s command that humans name the animals. But perhaps this charge is different from what many Western traditions have envisioned; it is not an invitation to control animals or the earth, but to care deeply for them in a covenant relationship. The Creator is saying: “Get to know the animals, learn from them, allow them to teach you their ways, make your covenants with them, and take care of them.”
This reflection is excerpted from “Early Dialogue in the Community of Creation” an essay in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, Herald Press, 2013. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Randy Woodley (Keetoowah Cherokee) is distinguished associate professor of faith and culture and director of intercultural and indigenous studies as George Fox Seminary. He is an author, co-founder of Eloheh Farm, and with his wife Edith (Eastern Shoshone) supports and mentors grassroots Indigenous activism. The Woodleys have four children and lead a local Native American gathering at their home in Newberg, Oregon on traditional Kalapuya territory.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar.