Watershed Discipleship by Daphne Levey

Daphne Levey has been a long-time member of St. Hildegard community. She shares the following reflection to create an authentic dialogue on our relationship with the land and water. You may respond to this piece through our community email; Sthildecommaustin@gmail.com

Here is the place to start, a quote by Ched Myers:  “It is impossible to overstate the depth and breadth of the social and ecological crises that have been stalking human civilization for centuries, and now arrived in the Anthropocene epoch.”  How did we get here?  To some extent, the fault can be laid at the feet of Christian theology.  We have been seeking salvation elsewhere, not on Earth.  We have been trying to rise above the “mere” material world, into the spiritual realms.  We have believed we have a commandment from God to “improve” Earth, manipulate her boundaries, extract “resources.”  Convert the inferior peoples who get in the way.  I am talking about European Christians, light-skinned people who came to the Americas to “civilize” the land, believing it was God’s will.  

Recently, we light-skinned Christian people in the US are coming to understand we may have misunderstood God’s commands.  Movements have begun in churches in the US called “creation care” that emphasize Earth as God’s own, as sacred ground.  These trends, however, tend to be very broad, trying to encompass the entire planet, Gaia and her interlocking systems.  Looking through that lens can be overwhelming.  How can we Americans really do anything about destruction of the rainforest in the Amazon?  I would like for us to discuss an alternative, something called watershed discipleship.

An eye-opening revelation, for me at least, is to understand all of us European people who came to the Americas are displaced people.  We all left our ancestral homeland for a place we were to “conquer.”  (Of course, darker-skinned people who came here were also displaced, violently and involuntarily.)  I happen to know about my ancestors who came to Jamestown in 1637, so, close to the beginning of our diaspora.  They continued to move west, eventually arriving in Arkansas.  They fought for the Confederacy.  I am even now further west, in Central Texas.  Even though my ancestors have been in the Americas for almost 400 years, there are no ancestral lands I can claim.  The question indigenous people ask is:  what land would you die for?  The idea behind watershed discipleship is for us non-indigenous people to re-place ourselves within a bioregion, a watershed, something indigenous people were born into.  It isn’t about loving the whole Earth as much as loving your place, your landscape, your watershed.  Native Americans say the landscapes of their lives claim them, give them ceremonies, stories and spiritual meaning.  As a start, I looked up the watershed in which I am located.  It is the Slaughter Creek watershed, dry most of the time until the periodic floods come to the Hill Country.  The creek bed is only two blocks from my house and I intend to begin a relationship with her, find out what ceremonies and spiritual meaning she may have for me.  To find your watershed, look at epa.gov/waterdata/surf-your-watershed.  Let us know what you think about this approach, falling in love with your particular place on Earth and learning what it might mean to lay down your life for the Land, as Jesus said about deep friendship.