Brokenness, Healing, Wholeness: Water Connects Us All
The Episcopal Church
“The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 35:7)
Lent derives from the Old English word lencten, meaning “springtime.” It is often associated with renunciation –
a time of fasting and repentance. Springtime, on the other hand, is a season of abundance, renewal, and hope.
Isaiah’s images move in a hopeful direction toward a kind of springtime: thirsty, burning ground transformed to pools and springs. But, when I look at the data concerning our use of water, abundance and renewal are not the first words that come to mind. Let me share a few recent vignettes from the United States of America, where I live.
The Colorado River provides water for 30 million people, coursing through some of our more arid states. It is so tapped for agricultural, industrial and municipal use that its waters now rarely reach the Gulf of California. The burning sands are not always transformed into pools of life!
Flint, Michigan, is home to almost 100,000 people. Nearly half of them live in poverty. Over half of them are black. In order to cut costs, the city switched its water source to the Flint River – but neglected to treat the water sufficiently, leading to very high lead levels in municipal drinking water. Children’s health and development have been affected. Government officials are under investigation; some have been charged. It is a unique story and yet somehow familiar — low-income and marginalized communities continue to be more negatively impacted by environmental degradation than anyone else. Here, the ground, and the people, are not thirsty for water, but for clean water.
My hometown is Seattle in Washington State, in the northwestern corner of the United States. We are known for our gray, wet weather. But for the three summer months, we receive very little rain. During those arid months, our water comes as snowmelt from the Cascade Mountains. Snow is our water security, like a vast vat of water slung over the mountains’ prodigious shoulders. As the climate warms, however, annual snowpack is decreasing: between 20-80 percent since 1955, depending on where in the State you look. That mountain moisture is still there – it just falls as rain more often than it once did, leading to more winter floods, and less summer snow melt. The snowpack turns our thirsty ground into springs of water – but those springs are significantly threatened by climate change.
Among all these profound interconnections, signs of hope are emerging. In 2014, for the first time in 16 years, the Colorado River reached the Gulf of California. A political agreement between Mexico and the United States (known as Minute 319) is credited for reuniting river and sea. When wrongdoing is discovered, as in Flint, government officials can be held accountable. And, in Washington State, one of our governor’s top priorities is addressing climate change.
Mexico and the US agree on a policy change, and a river is partially restored, an estuary replenished, and numerous species given hope for survival. Flint officials cut corners and babies and children get sick, even die. A Washington State governor seeks to establish strong climate policy and all the world benefits, at least a bit, from reduced carbon emissions.
In the Western world we tend to think of the self as a skin-encapsulated ego. Indigenous peoples know otherwise; their sense of the interconnection of everything is “readily demonstrable and irrefutable scientifically.” The water within us becomes water vapor, rain, tree, frog, fish, and ocean: all interconnected self, again. Water evaporated from your home becomes water vapor; becomes rain falling on the Pacific Ocean; becomes vapor again and falls as snow over the Cascade Mountains; becomes melting snow, joining the Cedar River Watershed which supplies Seattle’s water; and, finally, the water from your home becomes the water in my home, next to me, in a glass, as I write.
Closing: It strikes me that Isaiah’s verse could also be read spiritually, claiming that a parched soul can indeed be filled again. Could it be that the transformation of our relationship with water, and indeed with all of God’s creation, is intimately tied to the healing of our parched and thirsty hearts?
The promise of the waters of baptism is that we are made whole again. Perhaps humanity is waking up to the fact that wholeness, the restoration of relationships, is not only with God or our human neighbor, but also with creation, with those very baptismal waters.
Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, We take for granted that which we have always had without realizing its preciousness until it is gone, or threatened. We confess that our relationships often reflect brokenness: in how we treat our neighbor, in how we love our families, in how we pollute our waters, air, and soil. May our hearts be soft and open that we may so fall in love with the beauty and gift of life that those very hearts might break at the brokenness, rejoice at every sign of healing, remain resolute to act for justice, extend mercy to all, including ourselves, and find hope in you and the love which flows from your heart to all of creation. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection
Do you ever feel or sense that a transformation in our relationship with God’s creation might also heal part of that which ails our hearts? How so? What words would you use to describe that?
What are some of the signs of hope in your part of the world in terms of how we treat water?
How do you think your faith calls you to respond to concerns connected to water, or other “environmental” realities around you?
Do you think faith communities broadly, and the Anglican Communion specifically, have an important role to play in the water crisis? How would you describe that role and why it is important?
Think back on your life. Have you ever had what you would call a mystical or deeply profound experience connected to water? If so, and if you feel comfortable, share that story with your group. What does it teach you about yourself and about God?
Food & Water Watch http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org champions healthy food and clean water for all.
The Children and Nature Network www.childrenandnature.org is leading the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools.