…after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
…It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
~ Mary Oliver ~
Our ancestors had it right: they worshipped water. And for this year’s Season of Creation I am joining them. I’m far from the only one. Indigenous peoples still revere water, as do certain African and Caribbean cultures. The rest of us would do well to take their lead because water’s presence on this planet is what makes every breathing, beating, chirping, leaping, flying, growing manifestation of life possible. When cosmologists look for signs of life on other planets, they first look for the possibility of water. Water is central to creation myths worldwide because it actually created us.
Water is rain, sparkling dew, rivers, clouds, misting fog, lakes, forest streams, vast seas, snowstorms, icy glaciers. Sap, blood, saliva, embryonic fluid, tears. Water travels swiftly through every tree trunk, leaf, vine, stalk, blade of grass, flower petal. Water fills every living cell: 99% of our bodies are water molecules, still salty from our earliest ancestral steps out of the primordial seas. Every breath we’ve ever taken. Every hug, kiss, glance, laugh. Every bite of food that is itself mostly water. Every vista we’ve ever seen, every lilting sound to enter our ears. All of this is possible because we are water beings intermingling with other water beings, all of us embedded in a watery world.
So it’s not only surprising that we don’t revere water, but disturbing. And dangerous. Our willingness to allow the pollution and degradation of something so vital to all life shows us the deep pathology of our industrial mindset, our profound disconnect from nature and obliviousness to its consequences. Yet some of the greatest environmental gains in recent years have come from people advocating on behalf of water. Pipelines have been stopped. Bodies of water cleaned after decades of pollution. Rivers lead all other land forms in being granted rights in courts of law.
Churches the world over set aside September 1 to October 4, Francis of Assisi’s birthdate, to contemplate the wonders of the earth and what we need to do to foster them. This is my sixth celebration of the Season of Creation, which was launched as a single day in 1989 by Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. Over the years more and more denominations have joined from every part of the globe. Pope Francis put it on the Catholic calendar in 2015 with the publication of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.
I started my celebrations with quotes from this visionary document, which mentions water 46 times. Since then I’ve quoted wisdom from other faith leaders, scientists, activists, and poets. Pairing them all with photos of the wonders I’ve seen wandering our gorgeous planet. For Season of Creation 2022, I’ve chosen poetry and prose that dive into the beauty, power, mystery, and meaning of water.
A bay is a noun only if water is dead. When bay is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained by the word. But the [Potowatomi] verb wiikwegamaa—to be a bay—releases the water from bondage and lets it live. “To be a bay” holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers. Because it could do otherwise—become a stream or an ocean or a waterfall, and there are verbs for that, too … verbs in a world where everything is alive. Water, land, and even a day, the language a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things…
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass ~
This is the river. Water, that strong white stuff, one of the four elemental mysteries, can here be seen at its origins. like all profound mysteries, it is so simple that it frightens me. It wells from the rock, and flows away. For unnumbered years it has welled from the rock, and flowed away. It does nothing, absolutely nothing, but be itself.
~ Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain ~
At the hour of dusk, wreathed in rain,
Green shadow spreads over the court.
Embrace the purity of the lotus:
Its soul untainted by the mud.
~ Meng Haoran, Second Quatrain ~
There has to be recognition, honor, and respect given to Water in a way that equates all life’s thinking, feeling, memory, consciousness, and motion with what Water gives and with what Water represents to all the cultures of Grandmother Earth. Water is in your breath, on your tongue, fingertips, and water keeps your eyes moving in your sleep. Water dreams with you and retains what we humans forget … Water is not a noun, but a loving, moving, growing, cleansing, and powerful living being … So I drink this cup of stars called Water while thinking, speaking, and wanting all things to live fully …
~ Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Living with Relativity ~
The lakes are something which you are unprepared for; they lie up so high, exposed to the light, and the forest is diminished to a fine fringe on their edges, with here and there a blue mountain, like amethyst jewels set around some jewel of the first water…
~ Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods ~
You, goddess, at your coming hush the winds and scatter the clouds; for you the creative earth thrusts up fragrant flowers; for you the smooth stretches of the ocean smile, and the sky, tranquil now, is flooded with effulgent light.
~ Lucretius, On the Nature of Things ~
I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking…
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
~ Mary Oliver, At the River Clarion ~
More than ever I want to see
in these blossoms at dawn
the god’s face.
~ Basho ~
We must acknowledge and agree that water is sacred, that clean water is the right of all human beings and all other life forms, and that water itself has the right to remain clean and to move so that it can continue to support life. Such an aspiration is both possible and necessary. It is a moral obligation we have to water and toward each other, as members of a limited community of life.
~ Tanja Andrejasic Wechsler, Water: Our Teacher, Our Future ~
I never merited this grace, that when I face upstream I see the light on the water careening towards me, inevitably, freely, down a graded series of terraces like the balanced winged platforms on an infinite, inexhaustible font. “Ho, if you are thirsty, come down to the water; ho, if you are hungry, come and sit and eat.” This is the present, at last … This is the now, this flickering, broken light, this air that the wind of the future presses down my throat, pumping me buoyant and giddy with praise.
~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek ~
You, mountain, here since mountains began,
slopes where nothing is built,
peaks that no one has named,
eternal snows littered with stars,
valleys in flower
offering fragrances of earth …
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Like a Metal That Hasn’t Been Mined ~
The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars, life is your
child, but there is in me
Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye that
watched before there was an ocean.
That watched you fill your beds out of the condensation of thin
vapor and watched you change them,
That saw you soft and violent wear your boundaries down, eat
rock, shift places with the continents.
~ Robinson Jeffers, Continent’s End ~
Christ appeared to Julian of Norwich and showed her a little thing the size of a hazelnut that he placed in the palm of her hand…She looked at it and wondered what it might be. Christ answered her: “It is all that is made.”
It is all that is made. The Earth is a sphere that I can hold in the palm of my hand, glistening in its damp seas, misted with air. It is wound up like a ball of twine from a single thread that encompasses everything that exists. Luminous owls move at night on a thread of light. The Greater Spotted Slug slides on a thread of slime. It is the same thread.
~ Chet Raymo, Honey from Stone ~
I’d love to have you join me! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new monthly posts.
Imagine a river taking her case to court. Arriving in her smooth, flowing robes, reflecting the blue of the sky, a shimmering train brushing the floor as she walks. Her tone holds great authority. It would be impossible to ignore what she says. And we all know exactly what she would say…
RIGHTS OF NATURE
In 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of nature into its constitution. Where we stand on this profound paradigm shift may well depend on how we see the mountain pictured here.
When my partner George died in autumn, one of the things I dreaded was California’s coming rainy season. I feared I had only darkness and storms ahead. But one soft, misty January day, walking a trail along the edge of a mountain, I realized how wrong my foreboding had been.