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Moment #4: Awakening to our Aqueous Neighbors is Awakening to God as Love and Justice

In our exploration of the Epiphany and preparation for our time together January 9th, the next four blogs will focus on four different elements of our planet - Water, Air, Earth and Fire. We will focus on awakening to at least one aspect of our reality that cries out for our attention as well as one area of Christian and Catholic theology that speaks to this and can inspire new life in Christ. If these next brief moments peak your curiosity for a deeper journey, take a look at my earlier blogs or explore the many interactive elements of my latest book, Caring for Our Common Home: A Practical Guide to Laudato Si'.

Today we focus our holy noticing on water -- and you will need your journals and a dialogue partner (this may be yourself) for one of the activities! Maybe you would like to invite them to join you for this moment of reflection and preparation...

May I ask that we begin with a small moment of holy noticing? My spirit needs this refreshment and perhaps so does yours ... all on arduous journeys like the Magi need moments of respite -- an Oasis in the desert. And I must admit that this is a modification of the reflection I offered in a previous blog (Sept 3rd) when my spirits were on a low ebb but it seemed so apt in our journey together today.

Listen to the ebb and flow of Garth Stevenson’s composition “The Southern Seas” LINK Check out this video of Garth Stevenson performing the Magical Sounds of the Arctic Whales and watch footage of this graced encounter. This musical creation was the fruit of his journey to Antarctica, where his new neighbors, seals and penguins, icebergs, and other artists ( inspired him.

Now close your eyes

Let the watery depths soothe your soul and allow your memory to take you to a time when you were with or in or beside water.



Imagine what the breath of God over the dark, stormy, moving waters must have felt like in the beginning ... this ancient water lives on in the water cycles on our planet today ...



Now let the Psalmist poem - My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:2) - roll off your tongue. Say this over and over in your imagination as you listen to the sounds of the music of the ancient, deep water.



Now imagine a moment of great thirst in your life. How did you connect to life-giving water? Who gave you a drink when you were thirsty?



Imagine you are striped of these intimate moments with, in, and by the planet's waters touched by the breath of God. Who would be? Imagine if your most formative experience of water is contamination, pollution, fear, death?



Meditate on the following truth offered by Pope Francis in Laudato Si' (233): "The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face."

When water is polluted, oceans become too warm and acidified and water is commodified and people lack access to clean water, part of God's message to us is lost.



What would you -- a person of faith -- do to change this?

I thought this mellifluous moment of holy noticing was the perfect way to refresh us in our journey of awakening. So let's dive right in!

In the United States (and as a Torontonian -- I would also include Canada in this appraisal) we lead an extremely “wet” existence without really knowing it. Everything we do is a function of water and yet it is invisible to us. Even the brain with which you understand these words is 73% water. How aware were you of the water in the tap -- where is its origin (your local watershed perhaps or cosmic story if that is where your mind goes).

Today's first interactive activity: Ask a roommate, friend, family member or yourself to guess how much water is on Earth and of that, how much is fresh, drinkable water to sustain life? What did they say?

Did you know that ~71% Earth is made up of water (liquid, gas and frozen) and only 3% of that is drinkable...

Now ask them the top three ways humans use water. What was their guesses?

Did they guess energy production, irrigation of agriculture, and public use (water used in our homes for drinking or for sanitation and landscape watering)—in that order?

  • Creating energy to power our lifestyles uses about 45% of the available freshwater per day, so the more electricity we need to power our “stuff,” the less water will be available for people and ecosystems.

  • Irrigation of crops, pastures, and parks and golf courses requires the next highest amount of water—about 32% of available freshwater.

  • And water for public use is a distant third, using about 12%of available freshwater.

Is this just? This is a great opportunity for dialogue. I believe that the answer comes only after some holy noticing.

  • 89% of the energy produced in power plants is generated by thermoelectric systems that require water to cool steam-driven generators -- and after this hot water is dumped into rivers killing much of the life in this ecosystem.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 58% of the total energy produced in the United States is wasted

  • A meal of 1kg of beef, 1kg of lettuce and cucumbers, and 1kg of chocolate with one glass of wine, beer and milk each uses about 8,886.8 gallons (33,640L) of water -- from farm to processing, to store, to table.

  • A staggering 29.4 million tons of food is wasted every year and this means a lot of water was wasted. Imperfect Produce, a company addressing U.S. food waste, indicated that not only have they saved 9.3 million pounds of food from landfills to date, they also saved 462 million gallons of water.

  • Nationwide nearly 900 billion gallons of drinkable water are wasted annually due to leaky pipes, and poorly maintained landscape irrigation systems can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water annually.

  • Something seemingly so insignificant as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving can save nearly 5,700 gallons per year per person.

Is this a spiritual crisis? What did your conversation yield at this point?

After reflecting and researching, yes it is -- why? Because our understanding of God who is Love is diminished by our mistreatment of water.

God’s love is steadfast, abundant, and life-giving: “He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers” (Ps 78:16). The Scriptures also use the destructive power of water to describe the depth of God’s love: “The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left” (Ps 106:11). Pope Francis reminds readers of God’s love, quoting Dante Alighieri—“The love moved which moves the sun and stars” (LS 77). God loves creation and shows this love through the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. So, “even the fleeting life of the least of beings”—from the marine bacteria known as sea dust to the majestic loggerhead turtles—“is the object of [God’s] love.” In its few seconds or decades of existence, “God enfolds it with his affection” (LS 77). This echoes God’s love for the cosmos articulated in the very opening chapter of Genesis: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

God’s love and goodness infused creation with inherent dignity and worth. The watery depths bursting with life possess intrinsic worth beyond just the significance of fish or clams for human dinner plates. This does not mean that we are loved less just because God loves the American eel. Rather, we are being taught that God’s love does not diminish if it is shared. We are loved, but so are they: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, [God’s] boundless affection for us” (LS 84). Water has intrinsic worth and is not merely at our disposal for activities that place other humans and ecosystems in jeopardy.

I want to go back to my previous question: Is this a spiritual crisis? Is this our water illiteracy, apathy and wasteful lifestyles important for Catholics? Again, yes.

Our ignorance and misguided activities is causing water poverty.

Prior to the 1900s (when our relationship with water changed when it was readily available in the every home and our world became more industrial) water shaped where and how we lived, worked, and worshiped. The first Christian communities were defined by the desert and were dependent on clean water sources like the Jordan River. Jesus’s first disciples were fishermen and spent their lives appreciating the shining beauty, devastating power, and unpredictable stinginess or generosity of the sea. We have forgotten this about water because we have been able to insulate ourselves from the fact that water is life-giving and limited. The seemingly eternal presence of water in our taps has let us take water for granted and believe that it is something that we can (and should) buy and sell. This commodification of water has seeped into our faith lives and has hidden parts of God’s message to us and diminished our understanding of the sacraments intimately linked to water. How can we meditate on God as Justice -- the liberator of the oppressed when we know...

  • 844 million people lack basic drinking water access, more than 1 of every 10 people on the planet.

  • Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours hauling water every day.

  • The average woman in rural Africa walks 6 kilometers every day to haul 40 pounds of water.

  • Every day, more than 800 children under age 5 die from diarrhea attributed to poor water and sanitation.

  • By 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages.

  • One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.

  • 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation.

Water is invisible to many of us today and this is a privilege.

In your conversations, what do you think? Is there pushback? Why? Are there other ways to see this information? What did your dialogue yield?

Experts and faith leaders like Pope Francis know that if we do not change our ways and climate change and ecological degradation continues at its present pace, it will be water and not oil that cause armed conflict and strife. Thus, water poverty reflects both the physical and spiritual dimensions of the water crisis. It also connects ecological problems with the scriptural mandate to care for the poor. The term poverty calls Christians to act in very practical ways: increase funding to clean water projects; stop commodifying and privatizing water; educate against the wasting of water; stop using single use plastics, stop wasting food, wash clothing less, ... and many more small acts done with great love.

Pope Francis speaks out about water poverty as injustice all believers must address:

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. Pope Francis, Laudato Si', 30.

Just as the Magi travelling to new lands to celebrate and pay homage to the Son of God was a formidable act of faith, so too is awakening to the intrinsic worth of water and allowing this epiphany to feed our spirituality and motivate new, more just behaviors. What better time to allow ourselves to be open to the mystical meaning in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face than the feast of the Epiphany.

A Reflection to Close... Perhaps your dialogue partner would like to join you

And we prayerful began with music and so too shall we end this way.

Quiet your mind and find the physical space you have befriended over the last few blogs

Begin by letting the song "Oceans" (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong UNITED flow over your senses. LINK

As the music cascades in your imagination, meditate on Peter's act of courage to do something incredible and walk on water -- With God's help. Then slowly savor Laudato Si para. 76, or 85 or 88.

Add any thoughts you wish to share in your journal (previous blog activities) and bring to our retreat... here are a few guiding Qs How does the music resonate the truths in Pope Francis' encyclical? How does they both speak to the moment in history we are living? Do you feel the dam in your heart loosening? failing? falling?

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion. (LS, 76)

God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe”. The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine”. The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. We can say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”. Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”. (LS, 85)

The bishops of Brazil have pointed out that nature as a whole not only manifests God but is also a locus of his presence. The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship with him. Discovering this presence leads us to cultivate the “ecological virtues”. This is not to forget that there is an infinite distance between God and the things of this world, which do not possess his fullness. Otherwise, we would not be doing the creatures themselves any good either, for we would be failing to acknowledge their right and proper place. We would end up unduly demanding of them something which they, in their smallness, cannot give us. (LS, 88)

Praise be!

PS: Is your imagination on fire for more information about water? I suggest reading "The Big Thirst" (2012) for more facts and ideas about water and humanity's turbulent relationship with water from an award winning journalist Charles Fishman.


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