This is the second of a four-part sermon series on the spirituality of the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.
At the Embrace conference in Portland a few weeks ago we heard over and over again about the connection between spirituality and the earth, nature.
They talked about how the newly emerging form of Christianity, or what some think of as the new reformation, will not be supernatural, but natural and ordinary. It will be a more worldly spirituality, where God is in and through all things. There will be no hierarchy like there has been in traditional religion (God, angels, man, woman, child, earth), but all creation will be on an equal playing field. In addition, the Millennials and the “unaffiliated” (those who claim no religious or denominational affiliation) see ecology and sustainability as part of their spirituality. Closing speaker, Matthew Fox exhorted, “Religions fail us to the extent that they fail Mother Earth and so fail future generations.”
(For the full video version, click here.)
So, two weeks ago we began a series to recall the sacredness of all things. We began with our own sacredness and that of all other human beings. And now we’ve moved on to talk about the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Recognizing their important place in our world and our lives, and remembering that God is in all things will hopefully reconnect us to the Divine in natural, everyday ways, instead of just thinking about God in a supernatural way, as the church has emphasized throughout the ages.
Because of who we are and where we live, I’d venture to say that, as a rule of thumb, we take water for granted. We turn on a faucet and it flows out generously, clean enough to drink. We don’t run out of water for showers or washing clothes or watering the garden. We’re privileged and don’t even think about it.
Here are a few interesting facts about water:
- A person can live about a month without food, but only about a week without water.
- And although there is about 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on earth – only one-hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is readily available for human use.
- In a year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons.
- Since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.
- A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.
- At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year.
- A bath uses up to 70 gallons of water; a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.
- 748 million people in the world do not have access to an improved source of drinking water
- Some 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated with feces.
- On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day.
- On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day.
- On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day
- It takes 2.6 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper.
- It takes 6.3 gallons of water to make 17 ounces of plastic.
- It takes 2,641 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.
- It takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture a new car.
- In developing nations women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water; on average, 25% of their day is spent on this task.
- Collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.
These facts alone should awaken us to the necessity of conserving water, being mindful of how we use it, and holding individuals, corporations, cities and countries accountable to keeping it clean. But even with this awareness we are still treating water as an object separate from us. Recovering the concept of water as sacred is what I’m trying to get to.
We defined sacred a few weeks ago as “connected with God, evoking reverence, used in religious ritual, very important and highly valued.”
Have you ever sat and stared into Lake Michigan or the Ocean? When I do, I find that it evokes a connection to Something More, a feeling of endlessness, oneness, power, releasing, life-giving, peace, calm, emotional awareness, awe and beauty. I believe that because humanity has experienced these same feelings forever, and because water is absolutely essential to our survival, water has been used as a sacred part of religious/spiritual ritual and tradition for thousands of years. Christians have used water for blessing and baptism, Muslims and Jews use water for cleansing and purification, Hindus bathe in the Ganges for purification. On the holiday of Obon, Buddhists believe that their ancestors are with them for the day, and then at the end of the day they light lanterns in memory of their ancestors and float them down the river as a return to the world of the dead.
In John, chapter 7, Jesus says, “Any who are thirsty, let them come to me and drink! Those who believe in me, as the scripture says, ‘From their innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Obviously this is not to be taken literally, but Jesus appeals to the people’s knowledge of how important water is to their daily lives. I wonder if we can even grasp the potency of that metaphor when we have never had to walk with a bucket for water. Nor have we ever had to deal with a drought the likes (did you know that more than 40 states are anticipating freshwater shortages in the next decade? Wisconsin is expecting regional shortages before 2023). Water is life and life is water. And for Jesus, Living Water is God and God is Living Water.
As I consider the water and Living water, I find myself thinking about the one time I became dehydrated and needed IV fluids. I was sick, weak and light-headed. It was horrible. It is only a small leap to think about what it might be like to be “spiritually dehydrated.” We need the moisture of Spirit to live whole, balanced, healed lives, that is what Jesus was trying to say. And, if we become enlightened to this flow of the Spirit in the world, we’ll also realize that there are rivers (remember that rivers have been a symbol of the Spirit for a long, long time) of Living Water with each of us.
Those rivers of living water are strong currents in our lives, but often we fight them or ignore them. I struggled a great deal in seminary until my field education supervisor said to me, “Kaye, it’s like you’re standing still in the river, pushing against it. You need to lay down and float and let it take you where it will.”
This week, I invite you to bring your awareness to water – visit the lake and feel its pull and power, wash your hands and face with mindfulness, bless the water you drink, feel the flow of the spirit in you as you might feel the flow of water. Be connected once more with the Divine in real water and Living Water.
Love & Light!