A universe reborn: in the context of Standing Rock

A universe reborn: in the context of Standing Rock

Photo: Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA/WCC

The 6th reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water 2021 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is written by Archbishop Mark MacDonald.*  In the following reflection, he recognises that Jesus and his ministry are closely associated with water. Then he goes on to recall his presence at the Standing Rock protests in 2016 along with other clergy and indigenous water protectors.  He felt, at that time, that Jesus was also present beside them at the Standing Rock to protect its waters.


Mark 1: 7-11


The first Christians noticed that Jesus was never without water.  Take a look at the Gospel of Mark, for instance.  Water is everywhere.  For most modern Christians, it is just the setting, but for the early church it was a theme of new life for all of creation.  Jesus, the living Word of God, baptized the water in the Jordan River and then brings it with him everywhere.  His first step, afterwards, is to move to the desert, fulfilling prophesies of water flowing to the dry places.  From there you see water everywhere. The early church recognized that it was so important to the Gospel tradition that, after Resurrection Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus was the first festival that Christians commemorated.  They saw in those waters a new universe was born.  In them there was the dawn of a new heaven and a new earth.  The life of the World to Come rose up out of the waters.

2016 would be remembered for a long time by the communities around the Standing Rock.  The proposed Dakota Access pipeline, an oil pipeline, would run beside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and cross the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the community and for other communities downstream. The oil pipeline, which brings no benefits to the local communities has the potential of oil spills and polluting the pure and sacred waters of the Missouri River.  Since April 2016, Indigenous rights defenders from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation were camping near the pipeline construction site on Standing Rock Reservation land.

In 2016, the local Episcopal (Anglican) church sent an invitation to clergy and faith leaders to come to Standing Rock from 2-4 November, and gather on the banks of the Missouri River “to stand witness to water protector’s acts of compassion for God’s creation, and to the transformative power of God’s love to make a way out of no way.” Many responded to the call, including myself.

The eco-spiritual-theological connection of water-life-universe was reborn for many of us at Standing Rock in 2016.  At first, it was just a reminder of the living connection of life and water, something the peoples of Standing Rock were willing to pay a costly price to preserve.  In their witness, many others were awakened to something that has been almost lost: the absolute moral, physical, and spiritual connection between life, water, and future.  In the Standing Rock event, when many people realized that the peril to the water of Standing Rock spoke of a larger peril, something new was born.  It not only gives us eyes to see what is happening in our own time, it also gave many of us eyes to see what the water that flows throughout the life of Jesus is urging us towards.  In John 7:37 Jesus equates himself with the living water —“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Jesus is, I believe, also in the water of Standing Rock.  There we see the rebirth of the universe revealed, renewed, and revived.

Questions for discussion

  1. World Water Day is 22 March. This year’s theme is “Valuing water.” As a Christian, what spiritual values you associate with water?
  2. Why do we see the life of Jesus being surrounded by water? Starting with his baptism to his ministry. What is the spiritual significance of water in Jesus’s life?


  1. For indigenous communities, water—the life giving resource—is sacred.  Try to find out if, in your region, that sacred water is at risk of being polluted due to an economic project. 
  2. Try to find out more about the water protectors of Standing Rock.  Express your solidarity with the indigenous community.


  1. Eco-justice at stake for Standing Rock people in USA
  2. Standing Rock: A Clergy Call to Action
  3. Emmy Awarded Documentary “I Stand: Guardians of the Water” (password: StandingRock)

* Archbishop Mark MacDonald is the national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada and World Council of Churches (WCC) president for North America.