An earlier version of this essay was originally written in December 2016 in support of anti-DAPL protests at Standing Rock.
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. About some half billion years into its existence, it was cool enough for water to remain in liquid state on the surface, and to create an atmosphere. It is that water that filled the ancient seas, washed down rocks eroding them into soil, provided an environment for the first life, microbes, then animals and plants to form, and has nourished all plants, animals, and us, ever since.
This is the same water we drink now. This is not a metaphor: there is no new water. When it rains, the water doesn’t come from somewhere out there, it comes from Earth, and returns to Earth. It falls over every country, into every river, lake and ocean. The water you use today may have touched the hands or mouths of strangers, or of friends, or of those you call your enemy. It may have been drunk by Jesus, or Mohammed, or the Buddha, or Gandhi. It may have been used to baptize, or clean wounds, or wash newborn babies or the sick and dying. It is our only water, the only water on Earth, and the only water Earth will ever have.
I would like to ask you to make a reflection, or a meditation on water. Every time you touch water, drink water, use water, take a shower or flush your toilet, send a small appreciation toward this water we have access to. Remember it is the only water on Earth, and be thankful for it. This is a small act of earthfulness, the appreciation for and re-connection to understanding our dependence and interdependence on nature.
And if you have read this far, I will add this: The oil we pump out of the ground is formed from the billions of bodies of ancient animals and plants who lived in our same water, were sustained by our same water, and died in our same water. We have made their bodies a burnt sacrifice at the altar of our consumerism, our corporatism, our rabid rape of resources on Earth. This fire sacrifice leads to the destruction of our environment, of animal habitats, of our soil, which took millions of years of water action and erosion and decomposition to create, and of our very water, through pollution. All of this is sacrificed for oil. We are also living sacrifices but many of us don’t know it yet.
At Standing Rock last Christmas water and fire met, and despite the great sacrifice of the water protectors, fire, for the time being, has won out. The retribution of those who keep the altars to fire – for yes, they have temples and high priests as well- has been swift and harsh. The damage to Earth and water is clear: a year ago in December the North Dakota pipeline spilled its poisons into a creek just one hundred and fifty miles from Standing Rock. More than a hundred gallons leaked from the Dakota pipeline in March. On Nov. 16th 2017 Trans-Canada quietly announced that 5,000 barrels of oil, the largest ever spill on the Keystone pipeline, leaked in South Dakota. The day before the spill, attorneys for tribes from Standing Rock filed a motion in federal court asking again for reconsideration of the native peoples’ proposals. The fight continues. This is still the time to stand for the protection of water.
The continuing Standing Rock movement is our movement: to stand with Standing Rock is for each of us who uses, drinks, and gives thanks for water. This fight for water is, I believe, a focal point for ecological, compassionate, and reformative action on Earth. Not everyone has access to water, or to clean unadulterated water. According to WHO, water borne disease is the leading cause of death around the world, and most of the victims are young children. In places with little access to water, water bearers are predominantly women; in sub-Saharan Africa the time women and girls spend carrying water keep children and make women and girls vulnerable to attack and rape. Everywhere, water is necessary for life. Connecting mindfully to our use of water is also a conduit to appreciation for this vital resource and empathy for others without.
It is Christmas time again- what are you doing for the holidays? Are you giving presents because you need things or because it is the only way you know to show appreciation? Perhaps you will make a commitment to give handmade and homemade things, or to buy locally. Perhaps you will give a donation to an Earth saving cause. If you, or your family, need nothing, perhaps you could give something away.
Often, the most memorable gifts at Christmas are the gifts of family and communion. At my daughter’s in-laws where I am celebrating in Devon, the tea kettle is on. One or another family member will offer a cup of tea, early in the morning before breakfast, after lunch, at tea time, in the evening before bed. Tea is a ceremony of connection, an offering of warmth, a small token of generosity and hospitality. Unspoken, unacknowledged, and perhaps unconsidered as well, is the abundance of water we enjoy together, that gift of life that infuses everything we do, and that we barely notice until we are without it.
As a meditation over the holidays, and as a token of appreciation to the Earth, may I suggest we remember, and create a ritual to give thanks for water, for the infrastructures that make water so available to us, and for water protectors and water bearers everywhere. it may seem a daft, unnecessary thing to do, and yet is is one of the simplest ways we can reconnect to the gifts of Earth and to empathy for others. Give a glass of water, or perhaps take a glass and sip from it in turn. Offer a cup of tea, celebrating both the water and the herbs, or make it a glass of wine if you like, and consider the grapes converting sunlight to sugars. Recognize water around you. Appreciate it and love it: it is the most precious thing on Earth.