Ordinary Water

When I first came to Ireland from the parched Spanish summer, I thought I had found a place where no one had to worry about that most essential necessity, water. In many places I have lived, people think about little else. The scarcity of water is a more or less continuous crisis. But summer 2008 it has hardly rained, even here, in Ireland. The developed world is beginning to worry, and the poor lands are getting worse. It reminds me of a reflection on water I did some years ago in another church:
          Pour yourself a glass of water, and take few minutes to look at it with fresh eyes. Look: it is as still as the water from an ancient underground cavern and yet we know that it could just as well have been drawn from a rushing mountain stream, a storm tossed ocean or an enormous river at the flood. It is ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          Rest your eyes upon it and experience its ordinariness. It is fundamentally the same as that which pours from our taps, or that which floods the gutters of our roofs, or that which is drawn from high mountain springs and transported to our shops with such great effort and expense. We can see it as the most common thing that there ever could be: We spray it on our gardens and steam it into our ironed shirts and sit in it, warm and pleasant, like emperors of Rome. We boil it and drink it, bend to a fountain in the heat of the day and gulp it, step over it in puddles and shake it off our umbrellas. There is nothing more ordinary. It is the most ordinary thing in the world.
          We grew in it; lay in the dark and recapitulated the process of evolution in its warmth, growing eyes and hair and fingernails and attitudes to life. When it burst from the sac and flowed away we experienced our first emergency and came yelping into the world of light and air, some suppose unwillingly. That was water, the first mother, which came from the teacups and mineral drinks of our blood parent, changed in form and saved as our first home by processes we can hardly describe, let alone understand. But it is ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          Others held our heads safely above its danger and bathed us. The water took unto itself the dirt of our small lives and carried it away, but it did not cease to exist. In the endless repetition of its eternal cycle, it flowed away and cleansed itself in earth, sun and air and returned to nurture other babies, to wash the bodies of the dead, and to feed children rice and dhal and mealy meal and spaghetti in a thousand lands. Each time it became renewed and fresh as the waters of Eden, yet it carried the memory of the mud of the Nile, the slime of Okovango, and the deadly chemicals of Lake Erie. It was through all of this, ordinary water, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          It is the only thing in this world which exists as solid, liquid and gas. In the frozen tundra it cradles the remains of mastodons and forms the roof of the Innuit; it carried the Diaspora of the South Pacific on palm rafts and the hulls of the Conquistadors on their bloody mission; industry captured it to power the mills of their revolutionary project and Turner painted it in the clouds. It turned to blood and then parted for Moses, covered the world of Noah and sheltered Poseidon, brother of Zeus, the ancient gods of our tradition. It pours endlessly for the faithful in the paradise promised by Allah, and carries the Holy Spirit down the war-torn Jordan, for Jesus and his millions. But it is ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          From the beginningless beginning to the endless end, on our island planet there is no more-- though no less-- water. That which pours from our taps once quenched the thirst of sabre-toothed tigers, formed the blood of Genghis Khan, intoxicated Henry the Eighth at his table and carried the funeral boats of Vikings. It pours from our bodies, transforms itself through an endless alchemy of change, and appears again. Without it we become dry sacks, devoid of life. Our bodies are three-quarters formed of it; with even a small drop in its level, we become confused and weak and vulnerable to illness. It is so common that we use it without care, without knowing. But it is ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          Now look more deeply into the water. See how it blends without prejudice, though it will have travelled from places far away, from continents we may never have seen. Water knows how to be water in all times and places; it is democratic in its union. Invisibly, the molecules embrace without prejudice or preference; the Mississippi and the Pacific, the Thames and the Mediterranean sea. It carries with it something of those places-- minute particulate matter we cannot see, salts dissolved so thoroughly as to be beyond examination. It is a medium of matter and a medium of soul; its waves have embraced paddle steamers and pleasure yachts. It has been truffles and hot dogs, tears of widows, blisters of centurions, communion wine. It is ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world.
          In the figurative, it is soul itself. The mirror of Narcissus, the resting place between epochs of the sword Excalibur, the still pond where the lotus bears the jewel and Mother Ganges. It is the sea of poetic love and the lair of Grendel, the unknown and unknowable of Jung's Unconscious and the Brahman ocean of unknowing to which the drop of atma returns. It is the river of Heraclitus, ever changing, ever the same. It is the sea of unchartable depth where Leviathan lurks and it is the evolutionary soup from which we dragged ourselves with only a sentimental backward glance at the Holy Dolphin. It is the resting place of dreams and the breeding ground of nightmare. It is soul itself, but it is ordinary. The most ordinary thing in the world.
          It could be that we see now that the ordinary contains the miraculous. This small vessel contains the world. We are not separate from it. We too are ordinary, but we too contain the world. We are ordinary, the most ordinary thing in the world. Let us delight in the ordinary and swim in the water of life, from which we sprang and to which we return.


And so maybe

we should be a little more respectful with our taps.



Rev.Art Lester
Minister Croydon Unitarian Church


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