Archive for March 2012

World Water Day: some random thoughts

March 22, 2012

Today is World Water Day. Water is not ubiquitous for everyone — issues with water present a crisis to 300,000,000 people in emergency situations every year.

Three hundred million people is a little over 4% of the people in the world. Just for reference, it’s also the approximate population of the United States; imagine if everyone in the United States didn’t have access to clean water… Most of us do, but some people don’t. For example, think about homeless people living on the streets or in their cars. For them, water isn’t a matter of walking in to the next room and turning on the tap.

I lived in Sonoma County years ago during a severe drought. I lived out in the country, and we got our water from a well. It didn’t take too long for the well to go dry. As a result of this, we had to have water trucked in every week for our basic needs. This wasn’t considered safe for drinking, so we also got bottled water delivery. I was in college then. The campus was only a few miles away and, ironically, had a large aquifer running underground. We went to the gym there to shower. In Marin County just to the south of us–one of the most affluent locales in the country–water rationing was in effect, limiting residents to 50 gallons per person per day (we averaged 22 gallons per person per day).

This went on for a couple of years. And then it started raining again. As a matter of fact, we went from drought to flooding. At first, people continued to use much less water than they had prior to the drought–but then our old water-use habits began to sneak back in. Even so, I never thought about water in quite the same way.

5 [Jesus] stopped at Sychar, a town in Samaria, near the tract of land Jacob had given to his son Joseph, 6 and Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus, weary from the journey, came and sat by the well. It was around noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 The disciples had gone off to the town to buy provisions.

  • John 4:5-8, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation

This bible passage continues to tell of an infamous woman caught in a web of sexual sin and lies. But these verses are also important in both what they say and what they don’t say. Jesus is frequently searching for some alone time in scripture. Here he is, catching a few of those moments, sitting under the relative coolness under a shade tree to take refuge from the blistering noontime heat and sun. He’s in Samaria, but at a site that has historic significance. Walking through the desert has made him thirsty, and when a woman shows up to draw water from the well he asks (or demands, depending on which translation) that she give him a drink.

“Every day, all around the world, women are connecting with water. Indeed, water is at the core of women’s responsibilities in many societies, and millions of women and girls spend their days collecting and preparing water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and maintaining sanitation.” –The Nature Conservancy

The activity of water collecting and hauling is and always has been an important part of “women’s work” in much of the world. Not only is it critical in providing for their families, but it is also vital (e.g. vitas, “life giving”) for the women themselves–providing them an opportunity to be with other women for a brief time. This Samaritan woman had been shunned, not allowed to go get water when the other women were there in the cool of the morning; she had to go later, alone, during the heat of the day.

In the orthodox church, this woman later becomes St. Photina (Greek) / St. Svetlana (Russian), names that mean “light” and “pure.”

Interestingly enough, ultraviolet light is being used to make water pure, a technology that may well provide drinking water to many people around the globe. Maybe this invention should be called the Photina.

Water Questions & Answers from the USGS

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The women: named and unnamed

March 20, 2012

The inspiration for my post began with Carol Howard Merritt’s recent post “Love and Lent: How my faith was formed in the midst of betrayal.” I highly recommend that everyone read that–whether you continue with my post or not. Go ahead: I’ll wait…

  • My mother paces the kitchen a few more times. Instead of grabbing the phone again, she picks up a big basin and places our plushest guest towels inside of it. Then she yells out to the quiet house, “Car-ol! Let’s go!”
  • My mother takes the basin, walks into her friend’s kitchen, and fills it with warm water. She carries it to Margaret’s feet, taking off Margaret’s shoes, she cradles her soles as if they are the most precious things in the world. Without a word, mom puts them in the water and washes them.
  • Margaret begins to cry and it doesn’t take long before the tears smear all of our faces. Mom takes Margaret’s feet out and dries them on the soft towels. Throughout the entire ritual, we don’t talk, but we know what’s being said. I even understand the depth of it, at my young age. Margaret is about to face some of the worst public betrayal, as people began to pick apart the indiscretions of her husband.
  • Mom wanted Margaret to know one thing in the midst of it. Margaret would be cherished, even to the end of her toes.

Luke 10

38 As they traveled, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at Jesus’ feet and listened to his words.

John 11

32 When Mary got to Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “If you had been here, Lazarus never would have died.”

John 12

Mary brought a pound of costly ointment, pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. The house was full of the scent of the ointment.

John 13

Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist.

So here we are, four weeks into the season of Lent. Lent: the time in the church year when we are called on to walk with Jesus on his road from Galilee to Jerusalem–to see him experience the time of trial, his humiliation, his execution. Even while trying to walk that walk, we know that in the end Jesus will triumph over death in the Resurrection.

But today, thanks in part to Carol’s remarkable story, I find myself thinking not of walking, but of being at the feet.

My beloved spouse Melinda has bad feet. In her job, she calls on customers in manufacturing plants; typically these are cold, concrete-floored facilities. When her day is over, there is nothing she loves more than to have her feet rubbed. Several times a week, I try to save up enough energy from my own day so that I can slather her feet with cream or lotion (“ointment”) and rub them until she can relax and go to sleep more comfortable, so that she can sleep without getting foot cramps during the night. These are intimate moments, most often silent ones, where the only thing that matters to me is trying to make her feel better.

At the end, Jesus washed the feet of his most intimate followers–despite the protestations of Peter–in a demonstration of one of the most important messages of the bible, that of hospitality. This is not only intimate, but it is a way of elevating something unclean to an elegant sign of God’s love. Jesus’ feet were washed by Mary; he, in turn, washed the feet of his friends.

But what happened to Jesus’ male friends after his death? We know that at the very least Mary of Magdala (and maybe other women) went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Dead bodies were also considered to be unclean, so the preparation for burial was a task performed only by women. Peter and the other disciple came to the tomb after Mary to see that the tomb was indeed empty, but then they left. Mary, who had gone to Jesus to perform an intimate-yet-unclean duty, was the one who then had an intimate post-death, pre-Resurrection encounter with Jesus.

While there are certainly many acts in the bible and now of men who act in faith, today I am inspired by the stories of the Marys as well as the story of Carol’s mother and many other women–women who go about their daily duties–performing their intimate, unclean acts–and I am grateful for their examples.

Bible verses from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation by Priests for Equality.

This post is part of this month’s synchroblog “All about Eve.” Here’s a list of all the posts: