This is the fifth installment of a series about water. As always, if you are inspired to contribute some of your own writing as we go along, I would be delighted.
A few weeks ago I returned again to my home of summer healing: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on a peninsula within the peninsula that is my dear state of Michigan. I have gone there with my father almost every year since I can remember, just as he did with his parents. My mother used to come. Sometimes my siblings come. But I treat it like a religion, a holy pilgrimage to which I am bound.
Whenever I go back to those dunes, and rediscover the muscles in my legs that are needed to walk them, and jump into that sweet water of Lake Michigan, my body remembers what it was made for. The water holds me like a mother. The waves rock me like a lullaby. It is cold but then it starts to feel warm, just like I imagine it must be when you first come out into the world screaming and alone, and then your body starts to acclimate to the good air you breathe, to the other flesh that still sticks to yours, to the milk that feeds you and the water that cleans you.
When we were in the womb, the water of our mother’s body surrounded us and connected us to the source of life we needed to grow. When we are in the world, we dive into lakes and rivers and remember that the fresh water of the earth surrounds us and connects us to all life, to all flourishing and growth.
This water of our Mother Earth’s body is as old as time—the same water we swim in has passed through the bodies of Jesus, of Muhammad, of Mahlia Jackson and of the one you loved who has gone on and left you now. And it has all watered the ground that brings forth plants to eat, that nourishes animals and insects and microorganisms that keep the planet breathing and babies being born.
Get in it. Feel it all around you and know that the warm sweetness of life surrounds you. As my friend Brian Lillie wrote in a song once, “This ocean we swim is no place to die of thirst—love is all there is.”
Or if you can’t get in it, do as I did this past weekend at Earthwork Harvest Gathering, and get messy with it. I had gone back for the first time in 10 years to this festival that also reminds me of my connectedness to all life—a harmonic connectedness to a great web of musical life—and I participated in a water blessing ceremony for the first time as a pastor, alongside representatives of Jewish, Islamic, Native American and Druid traditions. When my turn came, I invited everyone to take out whatever water-bearing recipient they might have, open it up, and pour that water all over themselves. I gleefully demonstrated. In this way we remember that the essence of our beings can flow as unstoppably as water to fulfill the sacred purpose we each were given.
But we cannot just keep blithely receiving the water of life; we also have to take care of it. Water only gives eternally if we give back the same love it has shown us. The water that has recycled itself into the clouds for millions of years can still be poisoned with contamination beyond repair for countless generations. That is what thousands of Native Americans from tribes across the country have insisted in recent weeks as they have gathered in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipline: if we allow our greed for cheap oil to poison the water—as such pipelines almost inevitably do—we poison our own lives, and desecrate the sacred.
One of the other participants in the water blessings ceremony, my friend Aaron Allen, explained how the word for water in Hebrew is the word for mother if you invert it, and if you separate it in two it means “what if.” He concluded: “What if we treated water with the same respect, love and care that we would treat our own mother? And what if we continue not to do that?”
One of my dear ones that has gone on and left me is my friend Phil Wintermute. He wrote simple songs from the heart, and in one of them he dreamed he was made out of water—just a big bag of water walking around. “Water is the love of the earth,” he sings. So we are also big bags of love walking around, and we drink from love, and we swim in the love that gives us life, and it flows around us everywhere.
Never, for a moment, take all that water for granted. It is a gift born of love.