St. Francis understood that, by accepting our responsibility to care for water, we say, “Thank you,” to God, the giver of water and life.
Water has a simple chemical formula every schoolchild learns, H2O, two atoms of hydrogen to one of oxygen. Actually, water is a complex miracle, more precious than gold.
Water is life. Each of us was sustained and nourished in the womb by water and blood, and born with a rush of both. The human body is 50 or 60 percent water. No human being can survive more than three or four days without it. And on hot summer days, nothing refreshes like a cool drink of water. Scientists tell us that all life on earth sprang from the primordial seas. The Bible says, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…a wind from God swept over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).
For the ancient Greeks, water was one of the world’s four essential elements, along with air, earth and fire. Water works in balance with the others, but now may be the most threatened.
Water’s Wondrous Properties
Water freezes into snow crystals and ice, to the delight of skiers and skaters and the worry of drivers. When heated, water produces steam so strong it propels locomotives. All free-flowing water has awesome power: to turn waterwheels and power mills, to fall with thunder, and be harnessed to generate electricity.
All gardeners and farmers pray for rain. Harvest yields are directly related to the amount of water available to the plants. Too little water (drought or desert expansion) or too much (floods, hurricanes, or tsunamis) can be catastrophic.
But water also does marvelous things: cleanses, enchants, renews. Many people choose to take their vacations at the seashore or spend them fishing in rivers or the Gulf Stream. The vastness of the ocean humbles even the most jaded. Seen from space, our Earth is the “blue planet” because of its water.
Come to the Water’s Source
The Hebrews of the parched Middle East reserved their greatest praise for water. They saw God as the source of all water: “The LORD will guide you continually,/and satisfy your needs in parched places,/and make your bones strong;/and you shall be like a watered garden,/like a spring of water,/whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11). Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13- 17; Mark 1:9) and thus earned the praise of his Father.
Calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus amazed his disciples: “Who, then, is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25).
Beside Jacob’s well, Jesus begged some water from a Samaritan woman. He told her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
From this mysterious statement (and the fact that he knew about her “husband” troubles), the woman recognized Jesus as a prophet. Jesus often referred to himself as the source of living waters: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37-38).
And he predicted that his disciples would also be the source of life for others: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
The use of water at Baptisms is a sign of both cleansing from sin and sharing in the life that flowed from the side of Jesus after his crucifixion, when the sword pierced him and “immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).
In St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, he praises God for “Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.” He sees water as his “sister” because he believes God did not set humans over creation but as part of it, as stewards of it.
After Francis had received and suffered from the pains of the stigmata, he announced: “I wish to compose a new hymn about the Lord’s creatures, of which we make daily use, without which we cannot live, and with which the human race greatly offends its Creator.” He understood that, by accepting our responsibility to care for water, we will say, “Thank you,” to God, the giver of water and life.