Two headlines grabbed my attention on Thursday morning. The first one, in the LA Times said, “With less water, Southland will see browner landscape. Officials are imposing limits that could get even more strict.” The second headline was from The Week and said, “Ocean animals face potential mass extinction from climate change, according to a new study in the journal Science.” That headline was followed by a synopsis that said, “Rising temperatures and declining oxygen levels are cooking, starving and suffocating marine life. Unless humanity takes swift action to curb fossil fuel use and other planet-warming activities, climate-fueled die-offs could rival the demise of the dinosaurs, research shows.”
It was an interesting juxtaposition. Both stories were about water and climate change. The first story emphasized how the drought is going to affect the aesthetic preferences of humans in Southern California. With the new water use restrictions, our green lawns will be fading to brown. People are not happy about that. The second story was about how creatures that live in water are threatened with extinction because the emission of greenhouse gases from human industries and transportation has warmed their environment too much. I would like to think that people aren’t happy about that, either.
Water is life. That’s true for every living creature on earth. Somewhere between 20% to 80% of all the earth’s creatures live in water. The number is uncertain because no one really knows how many species live in the depths of the oceans. Their need for water is obvious. It’s their habitat. But land creatures need water too. Water is an essential element in all kinds of organic processes. We have never found any living organism that can flourish in a completely dry environment.
71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water—332.5 million cubic miles of water—but that water only accounts for 0.02% of the planet’s total mass. 97% of the earth’s water is salt water in the oceans. Only 3% is fresh water.
2.5% of the earth’s fresh water is unavailable because it’s locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, the atmosphere, or soil. Or it’s highly polluted. Or it lies too far below the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable cost. It the end, only 0.5%–one half of one percent—of the earth’s water is available fresh water, the water we drink, the water we use to water our lawns and gardens. If the world’s total water supply was 100 liters (26 gallons), our usable supply of fresh water would be only about 3 ml (about half a teaspoon).
In ways you probably haven’t thought of, you are a water creature. The human body—your body—is 60% water on average. Your brain and heart are 73% water and your lungs are about 83% water. Your skin is 64% water, your muscles and kidneys are 79% water, your blood is 90% water, and your eyes are 95% water. Even your bones are 31% water. You can go a month or more without food, but the average person would die after only 2 to 4 days without water.
Water is life. Water is life because it has unique properties that make life possible. It is the only natural substance where all three physical states—liquid, solid and gas—occur naturally on earth. Water is the universal solvent. That means that it can carry other elements and compounds. Your blood is 90% water but that water carries sodium, potassium, iron, and all the other minerals and nutrients your body needs.
Water is life. And water is holy.
Water is mentioned 478 times in the Bible:
The primordial waters of Creation with the Spirit hovering above them.
The waters of the Flood.
The wells where relationships were formed, where Rebekah is brought to Isaac, where Jacob meets Leah and Rachel, where Moses meets Zipporah.
The waters of the Red Sea which Moses parted to reveal a pathway to freedom.
The waters of salvation which Isaiah speaks about and invites everyone to drink: “You will drink from the wells of salvation; Ho, all you who thirst, come to the water.”
The waters of justice that Amos calls us to produce: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”
The waters of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John, where the Spirit descended upon him like a dove and the voice of God proclaimed “This is my son, the Beloved.”
The waters of Galilee where fishermen were called to follow Jesus and became disciples of the Way, waters that Jesus sailed across and walked upon.
The waters of the well in Samaria where Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, talked with her about worship and told her that he could give her living water.
The waters of the Mediterranean that Paul sailed across to carry the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles and diaspora Jews in far places.
The waters of the River of Life in Revelation, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God where the Spirit echoes the words of Isaiah and says “Come, let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”
Water is sacred.
In his baptism, Christ was immersed in the waters of the world. When we were baptized, the water we were submerged in or sprinkled with was a sign that we are immersed in the love and life of the triune God but also in the waters of Creation, the waters of the world.
What does it say about us when our way of life on this planet leads directly to the death and extinction of our fellow God-created creatures who live within the sacred life-giving waters of the earth?
What does it say about us when our own trash pollutes the waters we rely on to such a degree that now our own bodies are tainted with microplastics?
When we are claimed by the waters of baptism, we enter into a Covenant with certain declarations and promises. We reject sin. We renounce all the forces that defy God. We renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God. We renounce the ways of sin that draw us away from God. We promise to “serve all people, following the example of Jesus,” and to “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
In the waters of baptism we pledge our allegiance to the Kin-dom of God. We volunteer to stand against evil and its power in the world and to live in the Way of Christ. We vow to stand for justice, to be peacemakers working for God’s shalom. We pledge to reject all types of violence, coercion, domination and oppression, and to care for and protect all of Creation with fierce love.
I’m pretty sure he would never claim to be speaking as a follower of Jesus in the Covenant of baptism, but Joaquin Phoenix, interestingly, captured much of what our baptismal covenant is all about in his Academy Award acceptance speech in 2020. Here’s part of what he said:
“I think the greatest gift is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless… I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.
“We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.
“I think we’ve become disconnected from the natural world. Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the center of the universe. We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources…
“We fear the idea of personal change, because we think we need to sacrifice something; to give something up. But human beings at our best are so creative and inventive, and we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment… I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption.
“When he was 17, my brother [River] wrote this lyric. He said: “run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”
In our covenant with God and the earth, we are called, as Joaquin Phoenix said, to be a voice for the voiceless. Water has many voices—the thunder of a waterfall, the waves that lap against a boat or crash against the shore, the burbling of a stream, the splash of a puddle, the rushing flow from a tap or shower head. Water has many voices, but the world has forgotten how to listen to them. We need to speak for the waters.
We need to speak for the waters because the waters have spoken for us. Every drink of water is a reminder of how God provides for us. Every time we shower or bathe, Christ is in, with, and under the waters that cleanse us, singing about our baptism, giving us a sign to remind us that we are immersed in the life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we wade or swim, the waters that embrace us are a sign of our inclusion in this wet and wonderful God-made world. Water is our intimate connection to the natural world. All the waters of our life tie us to the well-being of the earth and all its creatures. The waters remind us that we are water creatures, too.
In the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, St. Francis sang, “Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water who is so useful, humble, precious, and pure.”
May God teach us to love Sister Water. May the Spirit that hovered over the waters of Creation, empower us to conserve and care for the water that sustains us and all life. May Jesus, by the Living Water of his word keep us in harmony with the water that flows in our veins. May the One who made us continually remind us that we have a kinship with water and all the creatures that live and move and have their being in water.
We humans have brought distress to the waters of our world. May we, as people of faith, be inspired to “run to the rescue with love,” trusting that peace will follow.
In Jesus’ name.
 The actual number varies from 45% to 75%. Body composition varies according to gender and fitness level and amount of fatty tissue.