We Are a Part of the Watershed

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Analysts are predicting that water will be the number one political issue in the coming years. Just as wars are being fought over oil, so increasingly there are conflicts over access to water. The business solution is to introduce the “privatization” of water: the theory is that if water is a scarce resource, then the market should determine its price, and price will regulate its use. But citizen’s groups are fighting back to say that water cannot be commodified, because it is an absolute necessity for life. Rather, water must be recognized as a fundamental right and provided equitably to all.

The danger in the privatization of water is that it takes water out of its relationship to all living beings, and into the hands of a system which is set up to think only in terms of profit. Water is not something separate from us, something we have made, that we might think of it in terms of selling and buying. Water is in us and we are in water. We must think of ourselves as part of the watershed.

The water we drink passes through us, and is returned to the earth. When we open our hearts to the wonder of this cycle, we can begin to heal from the out-of-balance patterns we all have learned in our society. Weeping is a part of it too. The water of tears moves our grief, heals and cleanses, as water does, moves us on the journey. The cycles of water teach us that we are all related.

Each of us has a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be used, or as a blessing to be honored? If we acknowledge water as a blessing, we recognize its essential importance. Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as I was able. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing.

All religious traditions have recognized the sacredness of water in some way. The old earth religions always revered a god or goddess of the waters—usually certain spirits were associated with salt water and others with fresh water. I learned about some of these water spirits from Mandaza, a healer from Zimbabwe who visited my previous congregation. According to Mandaza, the water spirits offer us healing and peacemaking. There are rituals for people to go into the water when they desire to be restored to wholeness or to find guidance for their spiritual journey.

According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, water is considered a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. Water is also medicine, the most important medicine in Creation. The Wampanoag people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks…..”

When I was growing up as a Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. Since all water is holy, we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water. 

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Water Is a Teacher

Water is a teacher. Water teaches us about the unity of all creation. All life comes from water, and needs water to survive. Water moves through the whole ecosystem, nurturing and transforming life as it moves. It rises from the ocean in evaporation, forming clouds in the sky, and, blown by the winds, it returns to the land in the form of rain. The rain falls into the soil, and gathers in streams and aquifers. In the midst of this journey, it also travels through the bodies of every living thing.

Margy and I have a bird bath outside our back door. Many kinds of birds come to drink the water we keep filled there, but we’ve also seen squirrels, chipmunks and bees. Every being needs water: insects, birds, mammals, fish, humans. Water rises up into the stems of plants and the trunks of tall trees.Chickadee at Bird Bath MJ DSC00964

Our bodies are 70% water—so it would be accurate to say that we ourselves are one form of water. But none of the water stays isolated from the rest—we drink it in, it moves through our blood, we sweat it out or pee it out. Sometimes we weep with wet salty tears. The water goes back to the earth and continues in streams and rivers on its way to the ocean.

When I was ten, my family went on vacation in the mountains of Wyoming. I remember coming upon a stream that had a little sign saying the water was drinkable. My sisters and I were very excited that we could drink right out of the stream. The water tasted funny to us, with its enhanced mineral content, but it was cool and refreshing none the less. Now, looking back on that event, I am saddened by our amazement at drinking water directly from the earth. For millennia, all people drank from rivers and streams, and animals still do. But in the memories of most of us, this no longer is a part of our expectations about water. We take for granted that pollution has made most water undrinkable unless it is purified.

It may seem as if there is an endless supply of water on the earth. But of all the water on the earth, only one percent is fresh water. More and more water is being polluted, or being diverted to industrial or agricultural use. We have now reached the stage where there is a global crisis looming as drinkable water becomes increasingly scarce.

Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onandaga Nation, has said:

One of the Natural laws is that you’ve got to keep things pure. Especially the water. Keeping the water pure is one of the first laws of life. If you destroy the water, you destroy life. That’s what I mean about common sense. Anybody can see that. All life on Mother Earth depends on pure water, yet we spill every kind of dirt and filth and poison into it.