Amos 5:24; John 3:5; John 4:7-15
The Rev. Tom Herbek
July 24, 2016
In John’s Gospel, Nicodemus asks Jesus how is it possible to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus responds that no one can enter without being born of water and spirit. Although this is generally interpreted to mean baptism, I think it means something much larger than that. For centuries, people have seen water as closely intertwined with spirit. In a new book called Grounded, Diana Butler Bass describes the special characteristics of water:
Water covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface and is vital for life on this planet. Our bodies are nearly 70 percent water as well, and we cannot survive without it. Evolutionary biology reminds us that life on earth originated in the waters, that the first ground-dwelling creatures crawled out of the surf onto the land. Plants, and therefore all our food, depend on both the water cycle and an appropriate supply of water. Water is the continuing source of life for this planet.
“How inappropriate to call this planet ‘Earth,'” noted science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, “when it is clearly ‘Ocean.’”
Butler Bass goes on to say that the relationship between water and healing is beginning to be understood in new ways:
Given the universality of water in stories of creation and healing, it appears that human beings have always understood that water is vital for happiness and well-being.
Studies in Europe and North America continue to show that either viewing nature or engaging in outdoor sports, especially when involving oceans, lakes, or rivers, calms us and elevates positive emotions. It also promotes attentiveness, concentration; and creativity. In addition to steadying human emotions, being near water has proved to have curative effects on many health problems, including PTSD, depression, addictions, autism, pain, anxiety, stress, and attention disorders, and to hasten healing from surgery, illness, and injuries. As marine biologist Wallace Nichols observes, “Nature is medicine; this is an idea now reiterated by modern science.”
As the Psalmist once wrote:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
Joan and I just returned from our yearly week at the ocean, and we are both quite aware of the healing power of water right now. Our souls have been restored.
Water might be something we take for granted with the abundance of fresh, clean water just down the street. But water cannot be taken for granted, something that many in our world are painfully aware of. In the wilderness, Moses helped the Hebrew wanderers to find water and instructed the people: “All of this is here for you.” But then he added, “Let each family take only as much as they need, so that there will always be enough for everyone.”
Enough. Take only enough. Leave some for those who follow.
Somehow we must only use what we really need and find ways to share with those who have none. We know that people in rich countries use 10 times more water per person than those in poor ones. There are many who believe that the wars of the future will not be about oil, but will be about water. There are substitutes for oil, and there will certainly be more in the future. We will find ways to fuel our energy uses and to power our society without using fossil fuels.
But people who do not have enough water will have to get it by taking it from their neighbors who do have it. Perhaps the futurists are right. The wars of the future will not be about land or religion, about oil or gold, but about the most basic resource: water.
Diana Butler Bass describes something quite distressing:
In March 2014, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 led to the largest and most expensive multinational sea search in history. For a month after the plane was lost to radar, investigation experts and sophisticated naval teams from the world’s most developed countries spread out over the Indian Ocean in a desperate search for the airliner. The media covered it 24/7. Millions watched, hoping for some sign of the doomed airliner and the lost passengers.
At an early stage in the search, an excited news anchor broke into CNN coverage reporting that satellites had picked up a large “debris area” at a distant location in the South Indian Ocean. For hours, experts speculated about and analyzed this news, hoping for confirmation that the airliner had been found. Then came word from the searchers: no airplane. Rather, the large debris field was floating trash, as one commentator said, “just garbage.”
For a short time, the experts switched from the plane crash to an environmental story. The world’s oceans are full of garbage. Some of it is visible, like cargo that falls from ships carrying goods around the world, and some is less visible, like tons of plastics and chemical sludge washed – or purposely dumped – into sea currents from the world’s watersheds. This debris clusters into large floating trash heaps of human-produced waste in some of the most remote locations of the planet.
CNN showed video footage and photographs taken by search crews. There it was: a massive tangle of human garbage, including thousands of the now ubiquitous plastic water bottles. Hours of news coverage that promised word of a downed airliner wound up being wall-to-wall analysis of stuff that washed down the planet’s storm drains and formed itself into islands in the South Indian Ocean.
The news about the airliner was worrisome and sad, but somehow the news about the ocean struck me as equally depressing especially since the commentators did not seem particularly fazed by the fact that these heaps of trash -“just garbage”- are largely toxic. As the trash degrades, it contaminates the food chain that begins in our oceans and sickens fish, birds, animals, and eventually us with chemicals no living being was ever meant to ingest. The problem of ocean trash is so bad that garbage clogs sea-lanes and ports in many parts of the world. Indeed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers picks up approximately ninety tons of trash every month from the San Francisco Bay alone.
But it is hard to see the ocean. Even though I was well aware of the problems of toxic trash at sea, the CNN reports startled me. As the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
We must protect our water from waste and destruction. But let us realize that dealing with the danger of a water shortage is nothing new. In fact, the prophet Amos, living 800 years before Jesus, saw what can happen when only the rich control the land and the water:
In the eighth century BCE, a Jewish farmer named Amos railed against the rich who were manipulating credit to seize land from small landholders. The woes of Amos’s time were real. Traditional farms fell into disarray, as the poor were kicked off their native lands. An extended drought had reduced agricultural production, and people had little water to drink: “One field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water” (4:7-8). Amos gives voice to those suffering, drawing attention to the link between abundant water, productive fields and vineyards, and economic justice. He calls for the rich to act on behalf of the poor. At the height of his lament, he contrasts the sporadic rains with the ever-flowing current of God’s presence and care for the world. He cries out: “Let justice roll on like a river!”
For the good of all, we must find a way to share our resources so that everyone has enough. Jesus gave “living water” to the woman at the well. Out of this living water, the redeeming love of God, let us each find ways to creatively reach out to those in need, to share spiritually, emotionally, and physically with those who need us to help make sure that there is enough.
So let us each do what we can to make sure that we leave enough for those that follow.
Let us each do what we can to make sure that we who are rich do not leave the poor behind.
Let us each take a moment each day to allow the beauty and spiritual healing of this wonderful lake to restore our soul. Let us each be reborn and celebrate our faith of water and spirit!