It’s been raining at my house for a week now. I’m not complaining because the rain had been scarce and my garden wasn’t growing. Our area (and most of our state) has been under drought conditions for a long time. Because of the importance of water in our daily lives, I didn’t want to water the garden from the well. We have three families that share a communal well. As I watched a lot of my flowers begin to die I could also see dollars starting to dry up. Starting a new flower bed and new vegetable garden was the goal for this summer. As I thought of the expense of all those plants I did water once or twice but then one evening the guilt overcame my need to save the plants. Yes, the plants need water to grow and survive but so do we.
One of the problems with our water tables is how much we like to take baths in the U.S. We love to bathe our cars, our sidewalks, our porches, our boats. When I was a child we knew one family that had a swimming pool. The wealthy belonged to a pool club. The rest of us went swimming at Rock Creek Park or in the local creek or pond. My sister and I didn’t like the ponds since snakes liked them so good. At any rate, pools of any type were rare when we were growing up. Sure there were kids’ pools around but only the ones for the smallest tots. Now pools are often common because even if a family cannot afford an in ground pool, many can afford the above ground pools. Water is seen more as recreation than necessity or an element that means life or death for many in our world.
“As we in water-rich countries take our daily showers, water the lawn or laze about in the pool, it’s easy to forget that fresh water is a life-or-death issue in many parts of the world.” ~Water Woes from “The Why Files”
My mother loves to tell stories so one day I decided I needed to get these stories recorded. She can remember things that most cannot at her age. The blessing is that she can also remember things that are now forgotten history not just of our family but of the way things were before we all became so sophisticated. A few years ago I asked her to record the stories for me. The first one she recorded for me is one about the story of water usage when she was a little girl. In the 40s, water was still seen as precious and no one wasted water. She talks about how they only had baths on Saturday so they would be clean on Sunday. Many of the family members bathed in the same bath water so that no one wanted to be the last one to take a bath. In those times and in many places in our world today, there was no such thing as a bath every day or several times a day.
As our world becomes more technological, many of us are moving farther away from an understanding and connection with nature. Land, water and air were never to be taken for granted in my grandparents’ lifetime. I am confident that if my grandpa used DDT on his farm he didn’t know its danger. They recycled before we came up with the word as something to do. They had a rain bucket at the corner of the house, what we would now call a rain barrel. Our parents would always fuss at us if we wasted water or used too much water.
Alice Albinia in her book Empires of the Indus takes the reader on a powerful journey on and about the Indus River in India. As she takes her own journey from the mouth of the river up to the source of the river she also tells the history of the river and religions around the river as well as the story of the people who live on the Indus now. She tells the story of how sacred the waters have been to the people but also how necessary to the survival of those living along the Indus. The saddest part of the book is how the river has been exploited for political gain or how the river has been dammed or diverted to serve the wealthy and cutting others off from a living. If only this were the story of one body of water or river being misused, but it’s not.
The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth largest saline lake. Rivers were diverted away from the lake in order to irrigate deserts. All of the fishermen lost their way of living because of the waters being diverted. There is crisis in the area because of the harm the diversion has done to the ecology and economy. In today’s news, China wants to build the world’s largest dam on the Brahmaputra in order to provide electricity to a growing population. This dam would negatively impact all who live down river of the dam not only because there would be less water available to the population of India, but also because the Brahmaputra feeds into The Ganges, another holy river for many who live in India. How will the damming of such an important river begin to affect the landscape? What will the damming of the Brahmaputra do to affect the religious beliefs of those connected with the water? Who will go hungry or thirsty because there is less water flowing into the towns and villages downstream?
I’ve always loved rivers and streams but because of boating, skiing or swimming. There is nothing more peaceful than the sound of a river and yet, as one watches a river, it is also clear that there is nothing as powerful as a river. When we divert rivers and dam them, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have control over them. Then the rains come and the rivers fill to the brim and flooding occurs where others have built houses now. We saw the disaster of building in the flood plains of the Mississippi as many of our families and friends lost houses because of the power of the river. Rivers have the power to give life but also to take life away.
Rivers and streams are the veins, the lifeblood of our earth. Indeed, when you look at a map of rivers and streams they flow across the land much like veins move across the landscape of our bodies. These veins of water are as important to life as the veins of blood are to our bodies. This is why water is an important symbol in many religions. In Christianity, the initiation into the religion is a water rite. In many churches, a person will not be allowed to eat the bread and the wine without being baptized.
Water is a symbol both of cleansing and a life giving force. Is our disrespect for water due to the technological advances or because we have forgotten the power of water to change lives, to change a landscape? In the mountains of North Carolina it is typical to see holes carved in rocks from a constant dripping of water from a tree or waterfall. The Grand Canyon was carved out by water. In the Christian faith, water carves out a place for the spirit to live in the believer. Hymns are written about the power of water washing away the past and bringing life. But caring for our water is no longer only a matter about religious symbolism. As our water resources are strained by growing population and pollution, being good stewards of water also becomes religious practice. When we hoard water we keep it from a neighbor.
“…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25.35
There are so many references and revelations or conversions associated with water that they cannot be listed here. When we drink water can we see it as sacred? When we bathe we can remember our baptism. How can we view water in a way that we no longer take its presence and need in our lives for granted? Agnes Baker Pilgrim understood this when she said,
“We are all water babies. It’s never too late to save the world. Wherever you are, take care of the water if you really want to live.”
Water is more than a symbol for the religious and yet we forget its importance. Water is both life giving and cleansing. Water provides food as well for our vegetables, fruits and grains need water to grow. The cows, chickens and pigs, all living creatures need water. When we share communion in our churches the bread and the wine exist because of God’s miracle in water.
Use water wisely. When we use water wisely we love ourselves and our neighbor. When we are careful with our use of water we are good stewards of our land, rivers and streams. Without water our planet dies and we die along with it. Matthew’s gospel ends exhorting us to “go and baptize all nations” before telling us to teach. If there were no water how could this happen?
For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Mark 9:41
Links of Interest:
Catawba Land Conservancy: Protecting Land and Water