Friday, October 15, 2010


I received an e-mail this morning asking me if I would write about water today. They said that there was a "blog action day" to help people think about the importance of water, and in it, they included some facts about water. My question was how to make it relevant to my blog. Well, here are the "facts" that they included:
1. Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it's no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that's just one meal! It would take over 184 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using that same amount to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.
Now, while all this is very interesting, or sad, or whatever adjective you choose to use, it actually makes me think of something else altogether. This is not to diminish the importance of taking care of our resources, and ensuring the safety of all peoples, but to help me think a bit more about the spiritual importance of water, and its symbolism in religious history.

You see, in Gleanings, Baha'u'llah says that we can "discover in all things the mysteries of Divine Revelation", and that "Each and every thing, however small," could be "a revelation" leading us towards God. (By the way, isn't it neat how Amazon inserts a picture of the books I reference? I guess it's true that marketing often drives technology. Oh, and I don't really see any revelation in that.)

I used to live with a very good friend of mine, and he always kept a water jug in the refrigerator. It was a simple yellow-ish plastic water jug, the kind that is often used to hold juice. Well, one day I came home and there was this writing all over it.  Samuel (said roomie), you see, had decided that he wanted to find creative ways to remind himself of the Writings throughout the day. So he went to Ocean and found all the references to water he could, and copied some of them on the jug.

On this jug, Samuel had written such things as "the waters of renunciation", "the living waters of Thine utterance", "the living waters of Thy pardon", "the soft flowing waters of Thy mercy", and so on. He also included "the ocean of God's hidden knowledge", "this surging and treasure-laden Ocean", "the ocean of My presence", and "This is the Ocean out of which all seas have proceeded, and with which every one of them will ultimately be united." There were references to sea, and so many more quotes.

And then one evening, we were talking. We were talking about religious history and I think I was pouring myself a glass of water from that jug. I don't really remember, but it's not all that important, is it? We began to talk about water in the history of religion. There is the river that flowed in Eden, and then branched into four seperate head waters that watered the lands. There is the story of Noah, who built an ark to sail upon the waters to keep himself, his family, and all the animals safe during the flood. There is Moses who parted the waters to bring the Israelites to safety. Jesus walked on the troubled waters to His disciples. According to Muhammad, the Kaaba was built at the site of a holy well, next to the temple constructed by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham. Water just flows throughout the history of religions (oh yeah, pun intended). Baha'u'llah? Well, He declared His mission in an island amidst the waters, and has sailed His ark upon Mount Carmel.

When I look at a glass of water, I am not just seeing a glass filled with a dihydrogen monoxide, plus a few other assorted elements. I am seeing something that is the very staple of life as we know it.

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