Steps along the Mississippi

Steps along the Mississippi

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On March 1, 2013, Sharon Day scooped some water from Lake Itasca in north central Minnesota, poured it into a copper bucket and began a 1200 mile trek from there to the Gulf of Mexico.  Thus began the Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 led by Sharon and a half dozen other indigenous women, some from Manitoba, Canada.

“We’ll follow the Mississippi as closely as we can, and we’ll be walking,” she said.  “The whole idea is to raise awareness, aside from the spiritual purpose.”

From Lake Itasca flow the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  Carrying this pure, fresh water to the Gulf of Mexico where it spills into the delta and wetlands around New Orleans is intended to raise awareness of the preciousness of water and the spiritual as well as practical need to keep all water sources clean and free of pollution.  When they reach the Gulf, Day says, they will mingle the cleaner water with the much-stressed waters at the mouth, bringing it a message, perhaps, of hope for its future and memories of its origins.

I visited New Orleans six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.  With a group of people working on disaster relief who had built strong relationships since Katrina with communities living in the wetlands south of the city, we went out onto the waters covered with oil slick, dispersants, stench and death.  Our guide, a member of an indigenous tribe, which has lived in that area for generations and whose livelihood depends upon fish and shrimp showed us the sludge covering the grasses and talked about the loss of fishing.  Today, the surface water might look clean in the Gulf but storms and strong tides still churn up layers of gunk resting on the bottom.  People are still living with illness and disabilities caused by exposure to oil and chemicals, still waiting to be compensated for loss of incomes.

April 22 is Earth Day, a day of awareness, advocacy and action on behalf of this incredible, beautiful yet fragile planet we call home.  Debates are flying around Congress, in our states, and between nations about huge projects like the Keystone Pipeline, about climate change, carbon credits, and ways to reverse the path we have been on in the last century which is wreaking havoc on the delicate balance inherent in God’s good creation.  Earth Day is a day to embrace a personal commitment to reducing one’s own carbon footprint so that generations yet to come will enjoy health and well-being.

As a member and faith leader in the United Church of Christ which is currently raising earth care awareness in a 50 day campaign called Mission 4/1 Earth, I am thinking about those Ojibwa grandmothers carrying that copper bucket filled with the waters of origin of the Mississippi River the entire length of the river.  Their steps are sacred.  Their mission is heartfelt and hope-filled.  Their witness on behalf of Mother Earth is stunning in its simplicity and peacefulness.  I am walking with them in my mind, praying for them and for this dot in the universe that is home. 

Sometimes an act of justice is taking one step at a time.

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The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.

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