Tapping into the wonder of water

During a break in the action, my son's friend came into the kitchen, glass in hand, seeking some water to drink.

He looked at the refrigerator door — but saw no dispenser there. He turned toward a corner where a water cooler might be, but saw no dispenser there. A bit confused, he scanned the room, glass still in hand, looking for something, anything, that resembled a spigot from which drinking water might flow.


Finally, defeated, he asked me where, please, he might find some water. From the faucet at the kitchen sink, I slowly gestured.

The thought hadn't crossed his mind. In the 11/2 decades of his whole life, this wonderful, modern child has learned that "raw" water — water that comes from pipes and sinks, from reservoirs and wells, water that has not been bottled, trucked, hyped and packaged — is not healthy water.


Like hot dogs and doughnuts, cell phones and sneakers, he sees water as a commodity, a product that can be traced back to some natural source but that must, assuredly, be processed and labeled and run through the marketplace to be made consumable. Water has become, for him, a part of the manufacturing process rather than a miracle of Earth's bounty. Indeed, there was a bit of fear as he approached the sink. (To shower and wash with water straight from the tap was one thing, but to actually drink it was clearly another.)

That is a shame. This child has been robbed. He should be able to feel awe toward this miracle stuff that flows from the Earth directly into our homes and through our bodies.

The way we handle water today has brought us to this great spiritual alienation. We "harvest" it, seal it up and sell it. We pollute it, pave over it and shove it underground. We divert it and dam it and narrow its courses. We look away when it is rank and are surprised when it doesn't stay within its lines. No wonder its wonder is slipping away.

For eons, Earth's waters have given us life — and now, in acts of both penance and self-preservation, we must return life to the waters. To do that, we need to reclaim its awe and enchantment. It is not enough just to value water. We can sell what we value. And we do. We must cherish it, for we preserve what we cherish. And we cherish what is enchanted.

Water is enchanted in our play. Children running through sprinklers, dancing in rain showers and splashing through the cool spray of fire hydrants feel the enchantment of water. Watering trees and gardens in schoolyards and reclaimed lots, and watching the plants come to life, reconnects us to the majesty of water. Easy access to swimming holes, healthy rivers and beaches can do the same.

Water is enchanted in our religions. We dip in the waters of our baptismal font and are reborn. We immerse in the pools of the mikveh (a gathering of flowing water used in the Jewish tradition) and are renewed. We believe these waters are as old as time, reaching back a thousand generations to the Earth's primordial oceans. To touch them is to touch the moment of creation.

This is not just myth or magical thinking. While 1,000 tons of space dust fall on earth every year, we get not one new drop of water. Ever. The water we drink with our morning meds has been here 4 billion years. It has traveled around the world, falling upon the highest mountains and diving deep into our aquifers. It has run through our ancestors' veins, soared 300 feet up a redwood tree and been processed through sewage treatment plants.

In the midst of all our megawatt dams and our bottled water, our culverts and stormwater pipes and irrigation systems, we need to remember this and reclaim the enchantment.


For it is in moving this numinous stuff called water from object to subject, from commodity to awe, from something valued to something cherished that the well-being of our planet, and ourselves, resides.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin writes from Baltimore, where she is a trustee of the interfaith environmental organization the Chesapeake Covenant Community. This article is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.