The Spirituality of Water

The Spirituality of Water


Earth, sun, water. Humankind has worshiped the sun for millennia, the earth too, but the water? Farmers pray for rain, but otherwise we don’t often worship water. Let’s explore why water is worth worshipping.


Water is a paragon – a best example – of commonality and unity. As Unitarian Universalists, we are naturally interested in unity and commonality, and are accustomed to thinking in these terms, and are welcoming of images and science that affirms those values.

Our bodies are of water. On average, 60% of our body weight is water, same as everyone else.

Water integrates us, reminds us of our similarities, and our connections to each other, and to Nature.

The sea, our great repository of our water, is interconnected too. For convenience, we divide the sea into oceans, but like Creation itself, it is all One. It is very clear looking back at Earth from space, that the blue ball we see is essentially the deep blue see, very blue and watery.

The Unitarian part of us understands the unity of everything, and of that everything, I and many others believe the unity of people, or humankind is most important.

Unitarian Universalists are generally skeptical of claims of miraculous anything, but there is something about water that is miraculous, and that hs to do with water’s molecular composition, its physics, its chemistry.

That is, that when water freezes its structure expands, instead of contracting like most substances do. Because it expands, it becomes less dense, and so rises to the top of liquid water and floats. This is a non-supernatural miracle to us, and to almost all life on Earth, because if water behaved like most other materials, the ice would sink to the bottom, and the seas would become, and remain, mostly ice, from the deepest canyons to very near the surface. Not having a lot of liquid water would have prevented life from beginning. Missing would be the fertile soup of dissolved earth elements in vast amounts of ocean. Although life might have started in those few feet of meltwater on top of the ice, life wouldn’t be able to thrive and mutate, and would not develop ever more complex molecules becoming more elaborate, and finally, in the laboratory of those warm shallow seas, become able to replicate. It’s a miracle! Let us take a sip of holy water, in happiness and gratitude for our good luck.   

By the way, we have been blessed by another non-supernatural miracle, and that is that our Universe, as it grew ever more complex, was able to evolve creatures that can think, and do math and philosophy and paint. In short, the Universe unconsciously created consciousness. It’s a miracle, and we will talk more about that on a future Sunday.

Water is central to our lives. Our food requires it to grow. Everything we drink is water-based. We can flavor the water any which way we want, but it’s still water at base. And speaking of the spirituality of water, the Scots’ name for their national spirit, whiskey, is uisge beatha water of life. Same as the Romans and their Aqua Vitae, also ‘water of life.’ 

Water is the original solvent, and we use it to wash ourselves and everything else, including sin. We use water for baptism, and christenings, and blessings, all the forms of washing away sin, and bestowing health and happiness and safety. 

Water is necessary to grow topsoil, and grasses, without which Earth would be like Mars, all dust, blowing, all the time. Water is necessary to grow trees for us to make wood. Water is necessary to make bricks, and concrete. 

Seven-tenths of our world’s surface is covered by the sea, and although we divide the one great sea into oceans, they are unified, they are one interconnected ebb, and flow, interrupted only by the islands and continental land masses. 

Our ancestors worshiped the sun, as do some in our own time, because it is rightly seen as the source of light and warmth and power, but the sun is far away. The Earth is close at hand, and we work with it, and play on it, and we do that with water too, but water is positively fun. It gives us joy. We swim and dive and have water fights and play like otters. 

If I should be asked what the phrase ‘spirituality of water’ means, I will reply that like most things spiritual, it is different for different people. We can agree that it is one of the powerful, necessary, life-sustaining classical elements (air, earth, water, and fire) and having it sets up apart from other planets that are too hot, or too cold, to have liquid water, if they have any water at all. We are blessed to have so much of it. 

If I am asked what is spiritual about water to me, I get a dreamy look, and begin to talk about the water of the high mountain meadows of the Cascade range. There, the water is mostly from snowfields, which slowly releases its water over the course of the short summer, and creates a kind of paradise of wildflowers and chattering streams. The snowfield’s meltwater soaks down onto the thin belt of soil, and then seeps down till it reaches the underlying hard, igneous rock just a little bit below. 

The water runs down on top of the rock, picking up molecules of rock and earth, and is joined by other waters, always seeking the path of least resistance, until it runs out beyond its snowback and becomes a little stream in the open air. Little trickles from other parts of the snowfield join it, and it becomes a small watercourse. 

It cuts the channel from past years a little deeper. The overhanging greenery and wildflowers make it a little tunnel through the meadow, till it reaches a little waterfall, maybe six feet high, with ferns growing in the crevices. And if I’m lucky, there I am with my little cup, catching the precious water. It tastes wonderful.  Pure and cold, and powerful, like liquid light.  It restoreth my soul. Any soul, I think. 

Barack Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, leads several peace-building initiatives. She is based in Hawaii. My wife Deborah is working with Maya on one of her NGOs, called SEEDS of Peace.  

Maya uses an Indonesian street phrase, ‘cuci mata’ to speak of seeing things newly. The phrase cuci mata means ‘washing the eyes,’ in the sense of refreshing one’s view of things. One example of this in the natural world was shown to me by Deborah when she suggested I look at the sea water we were standing in, with the sun behind us. I didn’t notice anything special, and then she said ‘cuci mata,’ and then look at the color of the waves. Lo and behold, after I had washed my eyes I could see that the water on the back side of the waves when the sun was behind us, was lavender color, and not fleeting, but reliably, whenever the sun is out and behind you as you look the same direction. Magic. But I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been helped, if I hadn’t washed my eyes. 

We will be happier, I think if we are more like water, uniting and connecting everything, protecting each other, from drought, and forest fires, and political upheaval, and needless violence. 

Let’s water plants, and water good ideas, and water each other, and let our differences dissolve and mix into each other. And from time to time, wash our eyes, and see things refreshed, and different, and be surprised, and pleased.


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