informative post The Spirituality of Water
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 10, 2022
5h Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 3:1-13, Isaiah 43:1-7
This morning’s sermon on “The Spirituality of Water” is the second in a series I will preach this summer. Last week we looked at “The Spirituality of Bread and Wine” and, to get us started, I offered my working definition for spirituality. For those who were not with us, allow me to share it again. When I think of religion, what comes to mind is a system of beliefs and practices that nurture my faith as a Christian and as a Presbyterian. But when I think of spirituality, my heart wanders to experiences of the sacred in worship, yes, but also in the day-to-day. How do I make room in my busy life to encounter the Holy? How do I practice my faith to become more aware of the Spirit that indwells all living things? For me, spirituality is about gratitude and inspiration, meaning and purpose, wonder and awe.
It is in our very nature to be inspired and in awe of water—how it moves, how it flows, its power, and the life force it provides to sustain us. After all, we cannot live without it—neither humans nor any other living thing. Water is needed for drinking, cleansing, and making crops grow. Here are a few interesting statistics: 66% of the human body is water, 75% of the brain is water, a living tree is 75% water, and while 70% of the earth is water, only 2.5% is fresh water. Sadly, 1 in 10 people on the planet do not have access to safe water and two-thirds of the world population experiences severe water scarcity at least one month each year.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Why? Because water is essential to life and to our overall health. Scientist and activist, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has written a book entitled Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. In it, he writes about a term he coined, “blue mind.” In his words, “blue mind” is:
…a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion…Today the search for the sort of focus and awareness that characterizes Blue Mind extends from the classroom to the boardroom to the battlefield, from the doctor’s office to the concert hall to the world’s shorelines. The stress produced in our overwhelmed lives makes that search more urgent.
So, water is essential to our physical health AND our emotional health. But before any of that, it is a blessing from God. In her book on Sabbath blessings, Molly Wolf writes,
Water is marvelously expressive stuff, full of deep meaning to all humankind, perhaps the most beautifully symbolic stuff of all. The water of life, the water of baptism, the water that cleanses and heals, the water that breaks down and destroys, the water that lifts us and floats us when we come aground, the water that churns and pounds us out of our complacency and into awareness; the water of swamps and sloughs and soggy despond; the rolling sea-ice powerfully sculpting a coast; soft groundwater, tenderly upwelling to green a barren landscape; the singing chuckle of a creek, the roar of a fall, the calm assurance of a great river, the crash of a sea swell, the quiet privacy of fog, rain washing or slashing or downpouring or falling gentle as a leaf; the soft healing, or bitter springing, or joyful welling of salt tears…..God be praised for the gift of water.[i]
Our Holy Book starts and ends with images of water. In Genesis 1 we are told that “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Then, in Revelation 22, an angel shows John the river of life, “bright as crystal,” he writes, “flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life…and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” And if you take some time to peruse Scripture further, you will find endless other references to water. For example, from Isaiah 12, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord…” From Isaiah 44, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams.” From Psalm 63, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water,” and finally, from Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters…”
Wells of salvation, flowing streams, and still waters speak of physical water, but they also draw us into the spiritual dimension. On that topic, I found the following from an online article about healing the earth:
[Water] is a feature of the natural world that has been a centerpiece of spiritual symbolism and religious ritual in human communities for thousands of years. With remarkable regularity across human cultures, water has been used to communicate the sacred value of life; the spiritual dimension of purification, protection, and healing….[ii]
How easy it is for us to take water for granted even though we need it so desperately—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s take a moment for you to share where or how you have experienced the holy through water. (Time to share.)
My love for water is deep and wide. I could talk about it all day, but my guess is, you wouldn’t stick around. So, let me be brief. The first spiritual experience of water that I recall happened when I set eyes on the ocean for the first time. Growing up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, trips to the beach were not easy to come by. But an uncle invited me to go with his family on vacation. I remember the car topping the crest of a small rise and then—nothing but water as far as the eye could see. My 10-year-old self lacked the words to express the wonder before me. I daresay, I would still come up short. Years later, I sat by another body of water, the Cooper River at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. I was there on retreat to pray about what God was calling me to do—be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I sat by the water and with the breeze blowing on my face and the view calming my nerves, I said yes. (This week marked 15 years as an ordained pastor, by the way. My how time flies!) Finally, I shall never forget the Sea of Galilee—walking along the shoreline, crossing the lake on a boat, watching fishermen cast nets much like the first disciples must have done. My reading of the gospels was forever changed through that experience.
Streams of water flow through the life of Jesus—especially along the Sea of Galilee. From there, he calls his first disciples—two fishermen—Simon and his brother Andrew. There, he walks on the water, and he sleeps in a boat as a storm rages, only to awaken and calm the storm. After his resurrection, it is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee that he cooks for his disciples and bids them, “Come and have breakfast.” Other references to water in Jesus’ life that bear mentioning include his baptism in the Jordan River and his first miracle—turning water into wine.
In John 17, Jesus proclaims, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” With Jesus’ words ringing in our ears, I leave you with two questions to ponder: First, considering the importance of water to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, how might you expand your awareness and gratitude for this God-given resource? And second, for whom might you be living water?
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Hiding in Plain Sight: Sabbath Blessings, Molly Wolf
[ii] “Water and Spirituality” http://healingearth.ijep.net/chapters/water/water-and-spirituality/
*Cover photo by John Zirkle, used by permission