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Behold the Water! The Elixir of Life

Our relationship with water is complex.

It offers a majesty that is calming, exhilarating, soothing, mesmerizing, fear-provoking…..sometimes all at the same time.

Sitting beside a glassy lake evokes a sense of deep inner calm as our minds and souls connect to the smooth surface of the water. We are in a different zone of our consciousness moving into worlds of peace and utter calm. And then, the carload of exuberance shows up. The doors immediately open. Someone screams, “Last one in is a rotten egg.” The cacophony of sounds erupts as the lot of them runs splashing, jumping and exploding into the water. Your heart rate and possibly blood pressure expand exponentially as you go from calm to hyper.

Life comes in a myriad of forms. Water is the elixir provoking, providing, or even taking our life.

How long can you go without a drink?

You know that you’ve gone too long when you can feel the dryness in your mouth. That mucous-ey tingling of a mouth in desperate need of liquid.

Tongue feeling larger than normal.

Gums feeling as if they will stick permanently to the inside of your cheeks.

You take your tongue moving it around your mouth to lubricate the dryness — only it does no good. It only gets stuck between your gum and upper lip. The back of your throat is still dry and in need of moisture. Scratchy and raspy throat attempting to form words.

This is most troublesome when you are in front of a group of people who are staring at you to offer words – words of hope, words of comfort, words of humor to release the laughter and euphoria, words of belief, words of promise – as if you know what needs to be said to offer Life in its myriad of forms. Your nerves kick in and your mouth goes dry.

This is also most disturbing and frustrating when you are in a hospital bed wondering if your body will deceive you – will you live or die?

You body is telling you it’s done. Your body is crying out for the elixir of life – Water! Made up on average of 60% water, we need water to survive. The ice chips offered in our crisis of health provide some relief and respite in our mental and physical demise. Simple ice chips – cold, refreshing, brings relief to the stickiness of our tongue, cheek and gums begging for relief.

Ice chips offer simple relief from the hot and dry atmosphere of summer. But ice chips in the winter cause death and destruction as they cover the roads and walkways. When frozen water falls from the sky in balls, that gorgeous field of 6-inch cotton or corn is decimated. The farmer’s hope plummets to their gut as they quickly assess the calendar wondering if they can get in another set of seeds in time to produce a crop.

We have a complex relationship with water – the giver and taker of life.

“Hydrate or die” Camelbak hydration systems shout to us which is all well and fine until you start hearing from some folk who think “all I need is gallons of water.” And they believe, “during this marathon, I don’t need calories. I’ll just drink water and burn more calories thereby losing even more weight as I run.”

When running marathons began to take off as the ‘cool thing to do’…….some of us remember the eye-popping incredulity of marathons……“What are you thinking even considering running more than 5 miles……26.2…..are you nuts?” And now, it is the hip thing to do so that we can get that 26.2 oval sticker for our cars. In the beginning of the craze, there were a good handful of deaths due to hyponatremia – low blood sodium. Due to too much water and superfluous sweat as the runner continued to run and to drink pure water, they flushed all of the nutrients and minerals from their system. Showing up at the first aid tent, they presented as dehydrated; headache, nausea, confusion, loss of energy, fatigue… similar symptoms to dehydration. It made sense to the paramedics to begin with the protocol to drink a bottle of water. Water cost them their life.

Water is the elixir of life. It forms saliva leading to digestion, regulates our body temperature, provides shock absorption in our brain and spinal cord, delivers oxygen all over the body and flushes out waste and lubricates our joints. Even our bones are 31% water and other organs are up to 75% water. We are water and we need water.

Growing up on the southern part Great Plains, water became amazingly important to me when I truly understood that I was connected to Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and even the Dakotas by the Ogallala Aquifer. A mysterious underground lake that offered all of us the water needed for our bodies; but, more importantly for our crops and animals that provided our livelihoods.

Cool, clear, water fresh from the ground drunk from the pipe coming straight up from the ground. There was really nothing better on a hot bike ride than taking a break to walk into the field and drink straight from the pipe coming out of the group.

For you living with rivers and lakes, this equates to a jump into an amazing swimming hole or floating down the river. On hot skin, that cool water slides over your skin lighting up every nerve ending in delight.

When you don’t have rivers or lakes you create slip ‘n slides or simply run through the sprinkler. And then, if the planning is really grand, you buy a bag of balloons to fill with the wet, refreshing liquid.

Again, here’s where it gets complicated. Do you fill the balloons up as full as you can knowing that they will explode immediately upon contact or do you barely fill them so that no explosion occurs unless the force of impact is great enough to cause a red welt of pain?

That water hose that waters the flower beds and potted plants or washes the car becomes complicated as well. Does it just water what needs watering or rinsing or does it become a device of attack and laughter as it sprays the innocent bystander?

How many of you can walk with another beside a pool, along a beach and not push your neighbor unwillingly into the water providing all sorts of merriment? That merriment – by and for whom?

Recreation is giver and re-creator of life. So – is it ok to create golf courses in the Southwest desert when farmers, towns, and houses have run out of water nearby?

Is it ok to pump gallons of water up from the rivers and creeks onto our ski slopes of Beech, Sugar and Appalachian to ski, tube and snowboard?

Water is the elixir of life!

Still, that complicated relationship with it includes the tremendous force of water that kills and destroys through flooding. The obvious story is of Noah as he builds the ark to save his family and the creatures of the earth. Because the creation of humanity had become too wicked, to separate from God, too thoughtless, too careless, God essentially said, “Re-do.” I will destroy the creation that I have created to start almost fresh, almost new. Noah and his family, the animals on the ark will begin the new earth, the new life of living on this planet.

And this is what begins to occur after the horrible destruction of floods. The damage is removed, repaired or left to rot. A new understanding of water is left in its wake.

And we remember the stories of the Watauga exploding out of its banks to engulf the Mast Store. Product was found down river after the waters receded.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo destroyed land and buildings as it made its way onto the North Carolina coast.

Hurricane Isabel in 2003 scraping onto the coastline produced flooding that took part of Hatteras Island away into the sea.

Nag’s Head beaches have disappeared more than one season as the heavy surf washed away its beaches.

Water is powerful, destructive and not choosy whom it shows its force.

On a stop in Ghana, we drove up to a rest stop with pit toilets in an open-air walled enclosure. As we looked at each other before entering the toilet area, which was only a floor inside walls with a good size hole in its midst, our host said, “Ghanians can live with water or they can live without water. Either way, they live joyfully.”

In “The Gospel According to Earth,” Matthew Sleeth writes about the stories of the Bible from a lens of caring for creation. He writes,

“But what understanding of God’s nature do we obtain from the element of water? Water has the power to both take and give life. “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures” (Gen. 1:20). We humans share the same percentage of salinity as the sea—as evidenced in the saltiness of our tears, the taste of blood, and the water of our mother’s womb. Water that is in the right place, in the right amount, and of the right purity makes life possible, but if water is present in excess, shortage, or impurity, life becomes impossible.”[1]

Sleeth continues, “We don’t buy bottled water, but we do filter what comes out of the tap. If the grass turns brown, so be it. If you live in an area where grass will not recover after a prolonged dry spell, then God designed something else to grow there. We are never alone. The God who is always with me cares about how much water I consume, and how much I leave for my neighbors.

   Some parts of the world are blessed with an abundance of fresh water, but many are not. From poor areas of Central Asia, where lakes and rivers have dried up, to the wealthy southwestern United States, where the once mighty Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, clean water has increasingly become a significant health concern. In Beijing, the groundwater level has been dropping about six feet every year. Because of increasing population and industrial demands, more than a third of the city’s wells have dried up.

   Why conserve water? One might as well ask why not light the altar candles using twenty-dollar bills? Without water, life itself is not possible.

Last spring I was teaching in a seminary in New Jersey, speaking to students from around the globe. The discussion turned to the differences between the culture here and abroad.

   A soft-spoken graduate student from Korea related that she came from a rural farming district. “It is a simple lifestyle my family lives.” She paused and collected her thoughts. “We farm without our own tractor. Our house is small, and we don’t have electricity. What I find the oddest about living in the United States,” and here she hesitated. Her face grew red with embarrassment, and then she pushed ahead, ‘What is the strangest thing to me…is emptying my bladder in drinking water.’”

Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll down like waters, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

From waters perspective, what does this look like?

[1] Sleeth, Matthew (2010-03-13). The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book Is a Green Book (Kindle Locations 629-633). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.