by Susan Barreto, editor
When necessities become sacred
As snow falls once again here in Chicago, it has actually begun to become a welcome sight. Like other areas in the Midwest, Chicago is experiencing a severe drought. While water may not seem that important to city dwellers, we are now learning scientifically how great its impact is on our community.
The power of water was surely not lost on those in the early church either, as they celebrated the ritual of baptism that was about more than cleansing the body and mind but also brought one into community. Scientifically speaking, if it were not for water, life could not exist on earth, and indeed it is the sign of water on Mars that we are looking for as an indication that life may have existed on our neighboring planet.
Water can both sustain and snuff out life in many ways. Unlike the other elements identified by the ancients – fire, earth, air – it can become a solid, a gas and a liquid. We use it every day as we bathe, but it is only at the font of Baptism where we see how precious it is to our spirit.
It is this paradox of how an element can be both sacred and mundane from both the scientific and religious perspective that we focus on this month in Covalence.
Reverend Tim Brown of Luther Memorial Church of Chicago illustrates water’s sacramental power in sustaining faith-based communities, while fellow Chicagoan Paul Heltne gives us the scientific basis for how precious this plentiful substance is on the planet. Heltne originally delivered his reflections about water’s importance from a scientist's perspective at Dominican University’s Siena Center last year as part of the Albertus Magnus Society’s Lecture series called “Making Waves.”
We all need water for drinking, for bathing, for cooking and for cleaning. We Americans consume more water per capita in our daily needs than any other country, so perhaps the rich imagery found in our Baptismal liturgy is often missed as we take the water for granted.
The story of Noah and the Flood can come across as an over-the-top tale about God’s forgiveness and promises, but like many of the other bible stories where water is its own character – think of Jonah and the Whale – God shows us how we are connected to the natural world around us. The story suggests that God too is mindful of the natural world and creation as well as showing how we rely on it for our survival.
So water is symbolic of our relationship with God’s creation. We rely on greater amounts of water as it seems plentiful, but then we assume its cleanliness as if it were meant for us alone. In our faith communities, we are beginning to realize that our senses may betray us. Although we bathe because we want to be made clean, we realize that only God can cleanse us as people of faith. That is the work of Water: The Miracle Molecule (title of Heltne’s original lecture at Dominican University) as we remember the waters of our baptism that are then reused and renewed throughout the world and across the centuries. But humanity is responsible for keeping it clean and available for future generations.
Covalence, February 2013