Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Precious Gift We Take for Granted

Jordan River
In the Church today commemorates Jesus' baptism at the Jordan River.  I visited the Jordan River a few months ago, dipped my feet in it and watched many groups experience full immersion in the waters where it is said John baptized Jesus.

I was moved watching those who chose to submerge themselves in the water.  One woman in particular intrigued me.  In her white garment, as she was treading the water, she would dip her head under and come out again, face, with a look of absolute bliss, pointing to the sun.  She did this over and over again.  

Watching her and others was a pleasure.  At the same time, thoughts about consumption that has shrunk the river and pollution that dirties it nagged at me.  

This last week it was bitterly cold here, temperatures dipping into negative numbers (Fahrenheit). While hearing about friends and family with frozen and/or burst pipes and reading about the chemical spill and resulting water contamination in West Virginia, I've found myself thinking again about water, about my own privileged life in which, almost always, I can turn a knob and have instant clean water.  I've lived in and visited so many places where clean water is not a given. I've lived in and visited places where water is not a given.  I know I haven't yet learned the lessons of those places because when I come back to the U.S., I all-too-easily fall back into my over-consuming patterns: running the water full stream when it's not necessary, taking a long shower, not fixing my faucet's drip. I all-to-easily forget that while my personal water supply is endless, the world's is not.  

I have a friend whose 9-year-old daughter told her not too long ago that she (the daughter) doesn't like to take showers.  "Why not?" asked my friend.  

"Because the water is so cold when I turn the water on." 

"You can wait to get in after the water has warmed up."

"But that would be wasteful."  

This 9-year-old who is aware of the scarcity and preciousness of water does not have the experience that I do of life without constant water access, yet she is a far better protector of water than I.  I am thankful for this young teacher, who is helping my to compartmentalize my experiences less, to transfer my learning from one setting to another, to examine my privilege and its implications for others. I am thankful that she is helping me to regard water as the cherished sustainer of life that it is and to remember that it must be accessible to all of us.

In Palestine I saw very clearly what can happen when one group of people has access to as much water as they want while controlling others' access to it.  On average an Israeli uses four times the amount of water a Palestinian does. Israelis use the vast majority of the water from the aquifers in the West Bank while restricting Palestinian use of the water from their own land.  There are many people in many places who suffer from a lack of access to clean water.

In India not long after the rainy season, I saw the several places where the mighty Ganges River was no more than a stream; in some places all I saw was a dry river bed.  Something must change.  
dry river bed in India

I am very sorry for all those who had problems with pipes freezing and bursting and who are likely still in the process of getting necessary repairs done. I do not wish the expense of time, money, or wasted water on anyone.  However, I do hope that living without water for a short time will help us (and I absolutely include myself in this) to use less water, to value more what we do use, to remember that there are many people who live without access to clean water all the time, and to do something to change that fact.

A couple of local organizations doing great work in this area include:
Water with Blessings: and
Water Step:

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