by Christine Sine
The mayor of Cape Town, South Africa predicted in October 2017 that the city would run out of water by the following March. Since then, the date for what officials are calling “Day Zero” has shifted. May 13th was another potential date, but fortunately, due to drastic water cutting measures in the city, the threat us been postponed to sometime in 2019. For a while residents were restricted to using 50 litres of 13 gallons of water each per day, considered the absolute minimum needed for people to continue daily life, without increasing the risk of waterborne illness.
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
I grew up with these words from Samuel Coleridge’s famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner but I never thought that they would have so much significance for our lives. Cape Town is not the only part of the world that has faced a water crisis in the last few years. Droughts in Australia and California, water rationing in Rome, flooding in Jakarta are all symptoms of a changing climate. Growing populations, increasing industrial demands and mismanagement of water all contribute. Some people believe that the wars of the future will be over water not land. Yet we undervalue water. The average American uses 1,800 gallons/day of water – more than twice the global average. So try the Water footprint test. The calculator doesn’t just evaluate the water that we use in our toilets and showers. It also looks at the water footprint of travel, production of our food and other energy consuming activities. I found it educational just to see where most of the water is used.
Water and the Transformation of Life.
Water is incredibly important in the Biblical story too yet we rarely think about its importance. I love the imagery in Ezekiel 47:1-12, repeated again in Revelation 22:1-2 of the river of life that flows from the throne of God throughout the new Jerusalem nourishing the trees on its banks. “Life will flourish wherever the water flows… Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing” (Ez 47:9, 12).
Emerging from water always symbolizes a transformation from death to life, from chaos to new creation. In the baptismal service of the Book of Common Prayer we read:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel our of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
Through Christ creation is renewed. Water is no longer symbolic of the threat of chaos but has been transfigured by our loving God into a cleansing force that takes away the sins of the world. In the flood of Noah, sinners were drowned and wiped out. In the cleansing baptism of Jesus sin itself is drowned and the sinners are cleansed and made whole.
Water is essential to life, but unless it is transformed by the blessing of God, it creates floods, devastation and chaos. With the blessing of God however, it cleanses and gives life to the entire creation each day and in every moment. From the moment of our conception, we are wrapped in water’s tender embrace, but we must emerge out of the waters to find true life out in God’s world.
Born Anew Out of the Water
Every use of water transforms and renews like a mini baptism. When we drink it we rehydrate dry and thirsty cells, we cleanse toxins from our bodies and we revitalize our energy. When we sprinkle it on our gardens it renews the dry and thirsty ground and gives life to every plant. When it rains from the clouds it refreshes and renews the very air we breathe.
Every use of water can be seen as a form of baptism, an opportunity to offer prayers of thanksgiving and appreciation for the gift of water and of life. We can so easily take it for granted, however missing the richness of these prayerful and sacramental moments that using water affords us, reminding us constantly of our covenant with God and reassure us of the cleansing of our souls that has taken place through baptism. Armenian Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian in his delightful book of garden mediations Inheriting Paradise comments: When we bless water, we acknowledge God’s grace and desire to cleanse the world and make it paradise.
Thanksgiving prayers for the gift of water and the renewal of our baptismal vows should not be confined to a baptismal service. A morning shower and a refreshing cup of tea, these too are baptismal moments, refreshing, renewing and bringing life. As I head out with my watering can onto the porch, here too I experience baptism and as I sprinkle my plants with water and give them life. As I sit and watch the waves crash on the seashore or stand in awe of the breathtaking beauty of a waterfall cascading onto the rocks this too speaks of baptism and the incredible cleansing and renewing experience of water.
Every Drop Of Water Is Precious
I grew up in Australia, a land that is subject to severe droughts, often followed by devastating floods. I quickly learned that water is precious. Every drop is to be treasured and used wisely. Now I live in Seattle, Washington an area that is known for its rainy weather. I don’t just take the rain for granted, sometimes I resent it.
However Seattle often has little rain over the summer. As the first rain of autumn falls, the brown parched lawns that are such a hallmark of the Seattle summer, give way to verdant green. I sit watching it fall gently on my thirsty garden and drink in the fresh fragrance of the rain cleansed air. In that moment my heart rejoices. Baptism I think. God has drenched the whole earth with love and faithfulness this morning. God has touched me too with a cleansing rain that has seeped into the dry and parched areas of my soul.
What Is Your Response?
Prayerfully consider your own attitude towards water.
How careful are you to conserve this wonderful gift that God has given us without which life would not exist? When was the last time you thanked God for the gift of water?
Read through this prayer which I wrote a couple of years ago for World Water Day and give thanks to God for the gift of water.
Now think about your life. How often do you confess sin in your life without acknowledging the places where you have already been cleansed by God’s baptismal waters? It really is like a morning after rain when the light shines more brightly, the air smells more fragrant and song of birds fill the air.
Take time to confess before God, not the places where darkness still needs to be uncovered but those wonderful places where God’s light is breaking through. Bask in the touch of God’s approval and love. Hear the gentle voice that whispers: well done good and faithful servant. I suspect that as it was for me, this will be like a cleansing rain, a moment of baptism and a very intimate meeting with God.