Related Posts

This Creek Is the Baptismal River: Baptism as Immersion into Reality

Lisa Dahill

The Rev. Dr. Lisa E. Dahill is the Miriam Therese Winter Professor of Transformative Leadership and Spirituality at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, Hartford, Connecticut.

Treating and experiencing the natural world as the sanctuary, the local creek as the baptismal river, and the creatures who fill this place as our kin in Christ as fully—if differently—than our human Christian co-congregants: these flow from outdoor baptismal practice intrinsically, prior to any actual words being spoken.

Imagine you were being prepared for baptism into a Christian faith that takes seriously your living relationship with the rest of the biosphere, with the actual creatures of this place who live here with you.

If there is more danger involved than in this idealized narration, if it’s hard, if unforeseen accidents loom despite our best planning and foresight, if the storm arrives more quickly and we’re all drenched, or if not all those can attend who would be able to indoors—do these challenges speak against such a rite?

It was a wild joy to slide with my canoe into the Connecticut River in the late afternoon of Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017, just downriver from Colebrook, New Hampshire—this river called Kwanitekw (“Long River”) to the Abenaki people native here. With a guide and another participant, I was setting out on the second stage of a visionary forty-day River of Life Pilgrimage traversing the entire length of that iconic river, an event sponsored by the Episcopal Churches of New England and the New England Synod of the ELCA, in partnership with Kairos Earth and Metanoia of Vermont, two New England organizations fostering Christian land-based spiritual practice. Over the course of four and a half days, we would be traveling through this far northern section of the river, not far from its headwaters in the Connecticut Lakes region of Maine and northern New Hampshire. Here the river is relatively narrow, fast-moving with regular low rapids, too wild and shallow for motorized boats; these stretches are for waders, kayaks, and canoes. The land on either side is forested and rocky, with tremendous beauty and abundance of wildlife. My notes recorded sightings of a young bull moose, a pair of mink, a fox, diverse duck species, herons, adorable sets of goslings with their parents, a water-skating silver and gold insect, and fish of a range of sizes. Along the river’s banks and surrounding hills we saw thriving maple, birch, alders, conifers, and occasional catalpas among many other species I didn’t recognize. We also encountered evidence of the human past in Native American holy places like Brunswick Springs and in various markers of the early European settlement of the region. Though we began with two full days and nights of rain, low temperatures, and more challenging river conditions, we ended up with sunnier, warmer daytime hours in the last two full days of travel as the river gradually broadened and slowed, the terrain opening up into more frequent towns and farmlands. Over the course of this stage of the pilgrimage we traveled around twelve to fifteen river miles per day and camped each night in campgrounds on the Vermont side of the river, emerging on June 8 just above Lancaster, New Hampshire, still in the far northern part of the state. Each morning and evening was marked with prayer developed from various monastic and eco-contemplative sources by Mark Kutolowski, who with his wife, Lisa Hershey Kutolowski, was one of the guides on the journey. It was a thrilling, exhilarating, gorgeous ride.

Dirty Water acrylic and ink on wood Jennifer Bunge

Dirty Water, acrylic and ink on wood, Jennifer Bunge

All was not sweetness and beauty, however; part of what made the adventure so powerful was its edge. These are dangerous waters in a season marked by high flow and rapids, through forests with real predators, in rainy, cold conditions that opened us, for at least the first two days, to possibilities of hypothermia. At Brunswick Springs, the second day of canoeing, I was so cold in the forty-five-degree rain, my feet soaked from the morning on the river, that my whole body was shaking as I jumped up and down, unable to get warm. The project’s logistics director, Jo Brooks, had arrived with supplies and took pity on me, giving me the boots and socks off her own feet, dry and blissfully warm from her body heat. Taking my cold wet water shoes onto her skin, she entrusted me with her boots for the rest of my piece of the journey. Our guide, Mark, lent me his fleece, similarly pre-warmed. A local priest was watching for our coming and joined us for prayer a couple of times, kindly bringing me ibuprofen and zinc for my sore throat. But the most memorable point of risk, which went beyond discomfort and into outright danger, came as we approached Lyman Falls, a breached low-head dam, toward the end of our first and longest day on the river. Experienced boaters know the dangers of low-head dams; the unwary or overly confident who go over the top can end up caught in the churn below, whose hydraulics create a powerful downward suction from which one can’t readily escape (nor easily be pulled out). Between 2018 and 2020, 111 reported deaths occurred in low-head dam churn in the United States. We knew of this dam and were watching for it as we approached. Our guide told us we would be crossing the dam area very carefully, heading as far over to river left (the New Hampshire side) as we could, since there the dam had crumbled almost completely, leaving merely a set of easy rapids to cross. Only toward the Vermont side was it still dangerous.

But a tall tree had fallen from the New Hampshire side of the river at a point we didn’t realize was just above the dam area, forcing us to move all the way over to the Vermont bank to go around it. When we got clear of the tree, the dam suddenly surged, seemingly out of nowhere. Behind me in our canoe Mark yelled, “Backpaddle!” and he and I backpaddled for our lives, initially not at all sure this would make any difference as the river pushed us powerfully along. We strained with all our strength against this huge force of the water to slow our forward motion. I have a visual memory of peering with horror from the front of the canoe over the edge of the dam as we approached, seeing my/our possible graves in that violent churn below, the river pouring inexorably, deafeningly, over the lip of the dam on either side of our canoe and pulling us with it, before our collective strength managed at the last possible moment to stop our forward motion and ferry us sideways a few crucial yards. We didn’t get anywhere near the safer section still far to our left where we had intended to cross, but freed ourselves from the most dangerous portion where we had first approached, and with a jolt we went over what amounted to a class 3 drop into a huge but mercifully brief set of chaotic waves which we managed to navigate into the calmer water beyond. We slid over to our campground for the night on the Vermont side just a few hundred yards beyond the dam, my legs still shaking so badly from the fright that I could hardly climb out of the canoe. That night I didn’t take my breathing for granted.

Immersion in Real Water

In baptism we are immersed into real water. This is the observable fact of the sacrament (its immersive nature may be less obvious in places that use the minimum amount of water possible). We use real water, and yet we linger theologically much longer over the words we use to name abstract ideas, like the significance of the human community, the shape of the ethics and discipleship baptism invites initiates into, or the precise way/s the Holy Spirit might be active in relation to initiates’ own faith or confession. Yet in our ecologically endangered world, we are finally learning to attend to the spiritual and theological significance of gifts we had perhaps taken for granted, the very functioning of Earth’s incomprehensibly complex, interwoven systems of water, air, soil, fire, membranes, flesh, photosynthesis, and predation. These are the miracles of life into which the life of God is enfolded sacramentally and, through Jesus’ incarnation, biologically. In baptism we know we are immersed and claimed by the Triune Name, incorporated into the (human) body of Christ in this place and throughout time and space, invited into the way and story and vision and discipleship of Jesus Christ. In baptism, the grace of God embraces us personally and communally and endlessly. But we are now realizing much more fully—or need to be realizing—that in baptism we are also immersed into Earth’s hydrology in a particular watershed, and into that divine life in, with, and under the water and all the life held in and made possible by it.

This essay will assert that the forms of baptism we use—and the forms of baptismal life flowing from the sacrament—need to reflect as fully as possible the ecological, ethical, and spiritual breadth and depth of this immersion into Earth’s waters. I will trace various dimensions of baptismal practice, both outdoors and in, before moving further into these ecological, ethical, and spiritual implications of the sacrament.

Baptizing in Local Waters

I have been advocating since 2015 for a return to the practice of the early church of baptism taking place in local waters, aligned with the baptism of Jesus himself into the Jordan River.1 Such practice immerses initiates in the “living water” the Didache calls for. It also provides the most powerful possible experiential richness toward claiming ecological kinship and discipleship at the heart of the Christian faith. That is,

I have come to recognize that the ecological conversion to which we are summoned requires not only brilliant scholarship, new theologies, even papal encyclicals. Restoring 2.2 billion Christians to the passionate and intimate love of Earth requires Christians’ literal re-immersion, through baptism the primal sacrament, back into the wild life of Earth’s hydrologic system. And so my first and primary proposal is to restore the normative practice of Christian baptism into local waters.2

The constantly perpetuated perceptual split between realms we consciously or unconsciously privilege as “sacred” versus the rest of the “profane” world is at the heart of the ecological devastation threatening our planet’s and species’ future. We are fatally estranged from the rest of the natural world, and forms of religious practice that ignore, assume, or perpetuate this alienation are in fact complicit with it. Indoor baptism using chlorinated (i.e., dead) water in a ceremony meant for and consisting of humans only, in a special holy room to which only humans are invited, in relation to a god too often viewed as the validation of human superiority, does not challenge the ecological and perceptual/symbolic alienation threatening all life but actively reinforces it, regardless of the words that may be spoken in the rite. Returning the practice of Christian baptism instead to the actual creeks, rivers, lakes, or seas near one’s home enacts the opposite: it is the proclamation that the divine imagination and life fills all that is, that the body of Christ permeates all creation (as the advocates of Deep Incarnation have been pointing out for some time and creation mystics for millennia longer), that the Spirit of life breathes through all that is.3

Treating and experiencing the natural world as the sanctuary, the local creek as the baptismal river, and the creatures who fill this place as our kin in Christ as fully—if differently—than our human Christian co-congregants: these flow from outdoor baptismal practice intrinsically, prior to any actual words being spoken.4 This shift in practice makes possible the forms of common life we so desperately need today, such as spiritualities of interspecies attention and relationship, ethics of advocacy and restoration, a politics that bridges human divisions in service of our common baptismal home. In fact, it makes these necessary: if we are to baptize in the creek, we need to “know the local scientists who monitor pollution levels, to learn what is safe and what isn’t, and to join the activists fighting to defend and restore this creek, this river, this lake or ocean. We will need to know the watershed more intimately than we ever imagined if we are to baptize out here.”5 Baptizing in local waters is the core ecological Christian practice because the grace flowing through the enactment of the sacrament heals that perceptual splitting underlying so many layers of the alienation we suffer and inflict. It is a whole new experience of what the Christian life actually means and is. Most forms of indoor baptism are in relation to this outdoor immersion as the forty-five-minute scenic drive down Highway 3 from Colebridge to Lancaster, New Hampshire, is to our four days on the river in a canoe.

Which is to say: moving baptism outdoors is not easy. Even (or in some cases, especially) if you feel far from the wilds of northern New England, that doesn’t mean outdoor baptism where you live is therefore safe. Questions of pollution and access make this practice much more complicated than indoor baptisms in most communities; one would not generally choose this option as a way to increase convenience for participants and community members, and in some places in North America it is simply not safe at this point to baptize in the closest creek or river (what I think of as one’s “parish creek”). Yet these challenges do not excuse us from a move outdoors. Rather, they demand our concerted action, in the case of pollution, and the same urgency we would mobilize if our indoor sanctuary proved contaminated. They also demand our creativity, in the case of access.6 These ideas diverge far from the normative baptismal practices of a typical congregation. If for most Christians such ideas seem far-fetched, then that may be a marker of just how alienated we are in our faith from the actual life of the larger natural world.

In a moment I will explore implications of this proposed form of baptismal practice to explore the ways it shapes new kinds of Christian faith and discipleship. But first let me note that, of course, I realize most places are not ready to adopt a practice of baptizing in local waters (even as some communities have never left the river, or are indeed going back).7 In such cases the normativity of outdoor baptism I am calling for does not change, but the intermediate question becomes: how close can we get to this baptismal river for now, as we move toward full immersion? For instance, confirmation and other baptismal affirmations could take place at the local waters, which would give rise to a whole different experience—as well as new forms of catechesis and discipleship—from indoor versions of these rites. If full baptismal immersion in the waterway is not possible, perhaps initiates could wade into it or stand on the shore and have buckets from the creek or lake poured over their head. Water from the creek or lake or ocean could be ceremonially carried through the streets back to the church to fill the font for indoor baptisms, that extended procession becoming part of the baptismal rite itself.8 If walking that distance is not possible, then a festive ritual blessing of the waters could still take place at the waterway without the procession, with participants bringing the baptismal water back to the church afterwards in their cars or by public transportation. That on-site blessing encompasses not just the water itself but all those, human and not, who live in and near these waters and depend on them for their life. This includes those without permanent homes camped along its shores and those whom pollution or overdevelopment has endangered or stripped of their habitats. If the water is too polluted for any direct ritual use, this very fact can become the focus of regular lament and prayer, research and action. Polluted or not, the creatures, water, climate impacts, and needs of the watershed can be a weekly part of the community’s prayers and thanksgiving. We can give attention to nonhuman creatures, their names, their lives, and their needs just as we pray for and act on behalf of the needs of humans.9 All these are examples of how claiming the normativity of baptism into local waters can shape a community’s life, root the Christian life in the larger life of Earth, and simultaneously prepare participants for full immersion into their ecosystem, even if actual full immersion into the literal biosphere of one’s home is not (yet) possible.

But for a moment imagine a parish near that Connecticut River up in northern New Hampshire or Vermont. Imagine the water is clean enough to swim in, to baptize in; imagine there’s a sweet spot with calmer waters where the river bends wide, maybe a little beach, maybe a parking lot and path, a bikeway not too far away. Imagine you were being prepared for baptism into a Christian faith that takes seriously your living relationship with the rest of the biosphere, with the actual creatures of this place who live here with you. Imagine that catechesis involves learning many of those creatures, their names and habitats, needs and distinctive voices and movements; perhaps in preparing for baptism the community invites you to spend time with them, to let one of them mentor and accompany you through this rite into Christian belonging. Now imagine that your baptismal ceremony takes place in this river you are getting to know. The day is brisk, the water cold; it’s a little breezy, maybe a storm is approaching. It’s late spring, Pentecost: birds are everywhere, calling and flitting and feeding their young; buds and leaves and flowers are bursting out in every direction. You wade in, gasping a little. As you move deeper you can feel the edge of the river’s current beyond the baptismal area: tangible, dark, flowing, rich. At waist-high you stop with the pastor, your sponsors, your friends and family who have waded in with you; others remain on the shore within earshot. Here with full voice you renounce the evils that keep you from loving God, the world, yourself, other humans, and all creation with all your heart; here you claim the faith of a creation-saturated triune God, the vision of a world beloved and redeemed in every corner and crevice, the way of passionate, nonviolent, whole-hearted mercy Jesus taught and teaches, and into all of this—the water filled with the Spirit of life oxygenating all the minnows and fry and larvae and nymphs and microbes, algae and mussels and fish and frogs filling this river—you are baptized. You come up dripping with the bodies of these creatures and into the birdsong of the place, a heron swooping past, a turtle sunning on the rock, your human community in Christ beaming at you and already taking off their warm dry shoes and socks, their body-heated garments and coats, to clothe you in love. This is the baptismal reality. It’s exhilarating, totally unforgettable, totally immersive.

If there is more danger involved than in this idealized narration, if it’s hard, if unforeseen accidents loom despite our best planning and foresight, if the storm arrives more quickly and we’re all drenched, or if not all those can attend who would be able to indoors—do these challenges speak against such a rite? How should the ritual enactment of experiential kinship with the whole wildness of God’s wild world rank in relation to safety at all costs? Shouldn’t Christian baptism make possible an experience of risky immersion into love of the world?


I close, as promised, with brief examples of ecological, ethical, and spiritual implications of this practice of baptizing outdoors. I was baptized in a church sanctuary, not in a river, but I have had many baptism-like experiences in outdoor waters, including an immersion in the river with prayers of blessing from my canoe partners at the close of that Connecticut River pilgrimage. From these and the reports of others baptized outdoors, I gain a visceral awareness of my creatureliness, my physical and moral and emotional relations with all these kin of countless kinds, as well as my vulnerability to them and to the forces shaping our common life. I experience myself as a part of this common home, no longer oblivious to it in our psychic imprisonment of pavement and cars and sanctuaries and screens. When we practice baptism outdoors, the rite itself becomes an enacted invitation out of that “original alienation” and back into the broader, richer, creaturely-kin reality for which we too were created, where health and joy are found. We become able to see the land and the creatures who were both symbolically and literally part of the foundational experience of our Christian lives, and we fall in love with it all. The created radiance of our world is now so heartbreakingly visible in its astonishing beauty and vulnerability. We become Earth people, alive to the divine luminescence of it all.

This moves us into new forms of ethics as well. As Victoria Loorz describes in Church of the Wild: How Nature Returns Us to the Sacred, what makes the restoration of a place possible is precisely its re-storying: this is what changes us narrative animals on the deepest levels, in our minds and hearts and vision.10 Baptism invites us in, and we live the Christian life, this way of Jesus Christ, as increasingly mature and responsible participation together in this vast divine ecology we have been baptized into. Ethics includes attention to ecological questions and environmental justice for humans affected by ecological damage (including climate displacement and the needs of future generations) as well as for nonhuman parts of creation. Because we fight for what we love, we will protect from harm places we experience as holy. If all the world’s Christians were being baptized into their watersheds and knew the more-than-human world as part of their faith experience and community; if all the world’s Christians were experiencing the re-storying that comes of immersion into a world filled with God, we would be a powerful political force for new ways of living on Earth.

For those in the Americas, as well as other places colonialism has ravaged, ethical attention to one’s watershed (the place of one’s baptismal relations) includes attention to the humans who have been here long before my European ancestors’ arrival. Dismantling my unconscious white entitlement, challenging expressions of white supremacy when I recognize them, learning to see my heritage and history through the eyes of those whose cultures and lives it destroyed, and acknowledging their primacy in the place both formally and informally—these are examples of how I am attempting to take seriously my relationships with those who are indigenous to this land.11 I learn from their leadership even as I attempt to grow into my own respectful relationships with the creatures of my place and in peaceful relations with other humans. These Water Protectors are finding spiritual and political power in calling for the ethics of experiencing and treating waters and waterways as holy: see, for instance, the ceremonial and political energy expanding globally from the 2016 Standing Rock protests in South Dakota and the emerging practice of nibi walks along major waterways and lakes of the Upper Midwest.12

One final ethical dimension of the baptismal practice I invite us to is the encouragement it would provide to efforts all over the world to grant legal standing (or rights) to nature. Laws granting legal rights to waterways and ecosystems are not a perfect solution to our current ecological crises, but they make profound sense, and they would provide far greater levels of protection than we presently have.13 We must protect the needs of the river, lake, and creek into which we hope to baptize our vulnerable loved ones—and from which we drink and draw food—if life is to continue. I am grateful that in this summer of 2022, I return to the Connecticut River watershed to begin a new faculty position on its banks, teaching transformative spirituality and learning from my students and colleagues, from those indigenous to the place, and from the river itself and its creatures, about what it means to live ethically in relation to all these other lives.

Finally, I would like to point here at the end to the vision Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated shortly before his imprisonment. In the first chapter of Ethics, he writes, “In Christ we are invited to participate in the reality of God and the reality of the world at the same time, the one not without the other . . . there are not two realities, but only one reality.”14 This is a statement as ecologically revolutionary as it is theologically and incarnationally straightforward. Ultimately, baptism into local waters makes possible initiates’ experience of this one reality in their own flesh as they rise up out of those waters blessed in the triune God and incorporated into the largest possible body of Christ, snorting out the insects and plant life they may have inhaled in the water of this place. Divine life and the world’s life, font and river: these are not separate things but are one reality. This creek is the baptismal font; this world is the flesh and heartbeat of God incarnate. This is a spirituality one can live into with joy and passion, that expands to hold the young person’s fiery need to make a difference, enfolds the child and sparks her/his imagination, and grounds adults and the aging in the larger beauty of being creatures together with God through death and life. The water’s waiting, to receive and redeem us all: let’s dive in!


  1. Lisa E. Dahill, “Rewilding Christian Spirituality: Outdoor Sacraments and the Life of the World,” in Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril, ed. Lisa E. Dahill and James B. Martin-Schramm (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 177–96. An earlier reflection published in the Christian Century in 2014 opened these questions beautifully as well: cf. Steven Thorngate, “Holy Water Everywhere,” Ched Myers has been working for over a decade now in spearheading the “watershed discipleship” movement, which anchors Christian faith and action in the broader place-based community of life that is one’s watershed; see the volume he edited, Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016).
  2. Dahill, “Rewilding Christian Spirituality,” 182. This quote refers to the “ecological conversion” to which Pope Francis summons all believers in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015), ¶14–15, 216–21.
  3. On Deep Incarnation, see Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology, ed. Niels Henrik Gregersen (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015); and Denis Edwards, Deep Incarnation: God’s Redemptive Suffering with Creatures (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019). A foundational text in making possible the baptismal experience of all Earth’s waters as holy is Martin Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” composed for his 1523 revision of the Christian rite of baptism. This prayer, still used in new variations in many Lutheran contexts and picked up by other Protestant traditions, shifts the focus of the central baptismal prayer away from converting the “ordinary” water to be used in baptism into “holy” water; instead it celebrates the fact that by Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River all water is already holy water. Jesus’ presence in Earth’s waters means that “the Jordan and all water [are] sanctified . . . for a saving flood” (Martin Luther, “Order of Baptism,” 1523; see the translation in Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1997], 289).
  4. Benjamin Stewart has demonstrated how powerfully the form of baptismal experience—full immersion or sprinkling—shapes in formative ways participants’ spontaneous, untutored articulation of what their baptism means: cf. The Role of Baptismal Water at the Vigil of Easter in the Liturgical Generation of Eco-Theology, unpublished dissertation (Atlanta: Emory University, 2009).
  5. Dahill, “Rewilding Christian Spirituality,” 185.
  6. Questions of access are complicated in moving the practice of baptism outdoors, and doing so requires special attention to questions of safety, assistance to those with mobility challenges, and/or alternate means of participation. However, what constitutes access varies considerably. For instance, people with neurodivergent forms of perception sometimes find indoor worship intolerable. Recent research with parents of neurodivergent children and young adults reports that many of these parents describe being outdoors as preferable for their children, and outdoor worship and sacramental rites may paradoxically provide increased access for families unable to worship indoors (even as they make participation more challenging for others). See Laura MacGregor and Allen Jorgenson, “Beyond Saints and Superheroes: A Phenomenological Study of the Spiritual Care Needs of Parents Raising Children with Disabilities,” (paper presented at Louisville Institute Winter Seminar, Louisville, KY, January 20, 2022).
  7. Many U.S. rural African-American communities baptize in rivers as they have done for centuries. Russian Orthodox Christians around the world bless their local waters at the Baptism of Jesus in early January; cf. Nicholas E. Denysenko, The Blessing of the Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2012). Ruth Graham documents a contemporary spin on practices of outdoor baptism, including natural waterways, among U.S. evangelicals in “Horse Troughs, Hot Tubs and Hashtags: Baptism Is Getting Wild,” New York Times (November 29, 2021), (accessed April 22, 2022).
  8. Paul Galbreath describes such a process he helped develop at First Presbyterian Church, Newport, Oregon, incorporating blessing of the wild waters (here, of the Pacific Ocean) followed by a procession along Nye Creek back to the sanctuary and pouring the water into the church’s font—the whole process including moments of contemplative presence and ritual. See “In Praise of Living Water: Ritual Experimentation in Times of Ecological Crisis,” Call to Worship 54, no. 2 (2020): 52–57. And, collaborating with ECHO-Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Dr. Nancy Wright led Ascension Lutheran Church, Burlington, Vermont, into study, worship, testing for pollution, and an art show focused on the Lake Champlain watershed over seven months. The watershed stewardship handbook she created (“Congregational Watershed Discipleship Manuals,” available at, accessed May 2, 2022) as well as an interfaith Sacred Waters event she designed for the community with hiking, kayaking and worship on the water widened her congregation’s efforts in the community and created potential for replication by others.
  9. See Benjamin Stewart, “The Stream, the Flood, the Spring: The Liturgical Role of Flowing Waters in Eco-Reformation,” in Dahill and Martin-Schramm, ed., Eco-Reformation, 160–76.
  10. Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Returns Us to the Sacred (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 89–93 and throughout. In fact, “re-storying” on every level is precisely what Christian baptism does as it invites us into the divine story and reality permeating all that is.
  11. Two very different examples of Euro-settler descendants’ journeys toward humility and honesty in relationship with those indigenous to their places and history are Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021); and Allen Jorgenson, Indigenous and Christian Perspectives in Dialogue: Kairotic Place and Borders (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2021).
  12. The term “Water Protectors” came to national awareness as a title for the Standing Rock Sioux and allies protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota; it has since been used also for those, generally indigenous people and often women, working to protect other waterways in North America and around the world. On nibi walks, see the resources, protocols, and history gathered at the “Nibi Walks—Every Step Is a Prayer” website,, accessed April 22, 2022; see also the Galbreath paper cited in note 8 and Kiara Jorgenson, “‘I Speak for the Water’: Anishinaabe Nibi Grandmothers and Watershed Discipleship in Northern Midwestern Protestant Communities,” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 20/2 (Fall 2020): 194–207.
  13. See the work of the Global Alliance of the Rights of Nature,, accessed April 22, 2022, and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund,, accessed April 22, 2022. Legal approaches are not the only strategy toward changing our destructive ways; we need changes in how economies value natural systems as well, and ultimately the experiential shared sense of kinship and love for waters and creatures described above is a greater form of protection.
  14. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, et al., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (hereafter DBWE), vol. 6 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 54–55, 58. The full chapter expanding these insights is “Christ, Reality, and Good,” the first and most encompassing chapter of Ethics, DBWE 6:47–75, especially up through p. 68. Fleshing out this paradigmatic assertion of “one reality” in Christ is the heart of my current book project, provisionally titled One Reality: Reading Bonhoeffer Ecologically.


Introduction – 56.2

Introduction – 56.2

The story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 begins when an angel of the Lord calls Philip to set out on “the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza (This is a wilderness road)” (Acts 8:26). Luke does warn us, doesn’t he? I can hear the moody background music between the parentheses. This won’t be a story about the familiar baptismal font and rehearsed liturgy of Sunday morning.

read more
Naming God at Baptism

Naming God at Baptism

We want to know the name of God. It makes sense that religious people try to ensure that when they address their God in praise or petition, whether during rituals in the assembly or in the personal prayer of their hearts, they are calling on God using the right name. We want to honor the deity of our choice; we wish to stand within a hallowed tradition; we are glad to unite with others of our faith community.

read more
Naming God at Baptism

Why Baptism Matters for the Work of Dismantling Racism

Perhaps my favorite definition of the word sacrament is “the visible sign of an invisible grace.” Coined during the Council of Trent by Augustine of Hippo, the North African theologian on whose theology much of Western Christianity laid its foundations, it remains one of the most used definitions in both the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions.

read more