LIVING WITH THE ABUNDANCE AND SCARCITY OF WATER
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Helen-Ann Hartley
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
“as the deer longs for the water brooks…” (Psalm 42:1)
O God, the birds sing of the new day,
the sun bursts through,
and people begin to awaken,
humanity stirs, spirits are alive.
Implant within us the gifts
of wisdom and discernment
so that the everburning fire
of the Holy Spirit might shine forth
like the rays of the sun.
Hail to you O Christ, the navigator
and guide of our waka* of faith. Amen
Prayer written by the Venerable Dr. Hone Kaa, 1941-2012
* A waka is a Maori canoe, guiding its people over the waters
Water is a finely balanced issue for farmers. Too much of it, and the ground becomes drenched and unproductive, too little means that the grass doesn’t grow and livestock starve. I have learned to think twice before commenting on what the weather is doing. In parts of the South Island of New Zealand, average rainfall can vary between nine metres on the western side of the Southern Alpine range, and next-to-nothing a few miles away on the eastern side of that mountainous range. I live near the mighty River Waikato, the longest river in the country. Its name means “full flowing water” in Maori, and it winds its way from the volcanic plateau in the central North Island out to the Tasman Sea to the northeast. To the north, sisters and brothers of the Pacific struggle with rising sea levels, loss of land, livelihood, and home. Closer to home, political debate rages over who has rights to the water and to controlling it. Water is a constant, we cannot escape it, nor can we ignore its force.
The Psalmist compares the search for God to the deer longing for refreshment in the wilderness. It is a powerful image as we journey through Lent. Where do we catch glimpses of God at work? The coach journey to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park of Aotearoa, New Zealand’s South Island, takes us through a mountainous landscape with high peaks topped by snow, past chasms of rock hewn out by
water creating a cheese-like texture over millennia, onwards towards the fiord itself, crafted by glacial movement creating a majestic inlet that leads out to the ocean. On either side of mountains that are so high you cannot but look upwards, cascades of teeming water flow down crashing into the depths below. How can such abundance placed alongside scarcity? The many different expressions and experiences of water in Aotearoa, New Zealand remind me of the challenges faced by my sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion. Drought can have a devastating impact, flooding equally so. So often those who are affected the most are the least able to access help, and are forgotten by a world beset with procrastination and denial over climate change.
Surrounded by water in its many forms, and in the many conversations that I have with farmers in my Diocese where the rural economy is central, I understand the urgent need for advocacy and justice that goes further afield than my own immediate context. The deer’s eternal search for God is our search too, and we cannot hope to find glimpses of the divine unless we care about God’s Kingdom and all who dwell in it.
Questions for Reflection
- How do you catch glimpses of God’s work in the water around you?
- Which of your senses do you primarily use?
- When you think of water, do your thoughts bring to mind abundance or scarcity?
- Have you ever experienced serious thirst – a genuine longing – for water? Have you experienced it for more than a few hours, or more than a day? If not, can you imagine what it would be like?
A New Zealand short film, “Water,” directed by Chris Graham neatly captures the dangers of complacency about
water. The film may be viewed in its entirety here