Living Water

I’ve been thinking a lot about water lately. That’s partly because our congregation is exploring the theme of “Creation Care and Climate Justice” in this worship season. The Holistic Stewardship Team, which I lead, initiated it. But it’s an important topic for global, more official sources, too, such as the Revised Three-Year Common Lectionary, 1 originally begun by the World Council of Churches. It even had water-related passages this past Sunday, such as Exodus 17:1-7, on which our pastor preached. But water is certainly not only a sermon topic.

We’ve long known that our bodies are mostly made up of water. And many of us are painfully aware that we are utterly dependent on water to survive more than a few days. I have a sister who lives in Saudi Arabia, most of which is an outright desert. Even those who are financially well off there inch their way through the scorching summers, one glass of water at a time. Millions of not-so-well-off people in this country and around the world have it even worse.

If there’s Good News about great restorative things environmental action groups are doing these days (which they are doing, thank You, God!), there’s also exceedingly Bad News about why they have to do it. Most of us know plenty of accounts about water pollution, toxic drinking water where people live in “sacrifice zones,” or those who are cutting down rainforests, paving over fertile ground, or turning land into deserts. It’s all part of updated reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).2 Thousands of people from all over the world contribute to that work. Clearly there is plenty to do to change many of the corporate and governmental systems under which millions of us live!

At the same time, water naturally seeks to restore itself, if we would concentrate on “doing no harm,” as Methodist founder John Wesley put it.3 Nature organically seeks its own health. One example, shared by a friend who listened in his college Physics class, is that things that float on the surface of water are naturally drawn to the “living water,” meaning water that is active, going somewhere. For example, if there’s a stream flowing over a pond or other stable body of water, a handful of pine needles dumped in at the pond’s edge will be attracted to the “living water,” will float over to that stream and follow it. (As I often say, “That’ll preach!” since Jesus called himself the “living water” (John 7:38), you know where I would go in a sermon!)

The Bible is full of references to water, both physically and as a metaphor. For example, there’s the wild water over which God created all that exists (in Genesis 1), the flood waters over which God started anew with humanity in Noah’s day (Genesis 6), water from the rock in the desert (Exodus 17), and the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus (John 3) and with the Samaritan woman (John 4). The list goes on.

Clearly, water is used as a metaphor related to life by people these days, as well. One spiritual writer notes that dry leaves float on water’s surface, showing us how to surrender to life’s larger currents, helping us make it through times of suffering.4 Another writer says water reminds us of God’s care, just as God’s Spirit hovered over the deep. 5
“God’s grace is as diffuse as the waters, rippling within the cellular life of our world. . . . All of life is graced – every person, every community, every creature. We can’t extract ourselves from water, and we can’t separate ourselves from God’s care. . . . We are as reliant on God’s grace as are our bodies on water.”

The way we treat the physical water on this Earth, and the metaphorical water of God’s grace, reflects the life of our faithfulness to the One who created us.

Your pondering partner,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – The Three-Year Common Lectionary was initiated by the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II and has been adopted and adapted by countless Christian communions around the globe. Each Sunday’s readings include passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles, the Psalms, and the Gospels. Year A Gospel texts are from Matthew, Year B from the Gospels of Mark and John, and Year C from the Gospel of Luke.

2 – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

3 – John Wesley gave three general guidelines for personal and corporate behavior: do no harm, do good, and attend to the specific ordinances of God (meaning some basic disciplines to help us live in alignment with God’s love for us all). Rueben Job describes these “General Rules” in his little book, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living.

4 – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, pp. 85-87.

5 – Isaac S. Villegas, “The Testimony of Water,” Christian Century, March, 2023.