Water nourishes body, purifies soul

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

Using my remote clicker to move from one cable channel to another, I happened across a report from Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. He was standing beside the Indus River and detailing a growing disaster in the nation of Pakistan. An expert on the region says that the shortage of water is the most significant future threat to the viability of that nation. As many as 55 million Pakistanis today -- about a third of the population -- have zero access to clean drinking water.

According to a study by a Washington think tank, Pakistan suffers from inefficient irrigation, abysmal urban sanitation and destruction to the Indus Delta. Moreover, the Pakistani army's effort to displace the Taliban effectively has had the unintended effect of pushing as many as three million Pakistanis away from their homes. They have become landless refugees within their own country. The global financial meltdown has forced other Pakistanis who had found work elsewhere in the Middle East to come home, further straining a tapped-out water supply.

Any nation will have a difficult time surviving unless its people have water -- to bathe, to cook, to drink.

In watching the story, I couldn't help thinking about a recent visit our family made to Qumran, best known for the Dead Sea Scrolls found in cave No. 4. This is what most of us know about Qumran.

When you actually visit the desolate site, however, the most dominant feature of Qumran is the ruins of ritual baths. The Essenes, a sect of first-century Jews which separated itself from dominant culture, built the Qumran settlement. They believed water was necessary in achieving lives of purity. What is striking about Qumran is how creative the ancients were in trapping water in such a dry area. They harnessed flash floods and rare showers into an impressive series of aqueducts.

They knew how vital water was. The Qumran settlement literally was built on it. Without adequate water, the Essenes could not achieve purification from their daily activities; their civilization was constructed on this desire for purity.

At Masada, just down the road from Qumran, rebel Jews became the final outpost against Roman aggression. They lived for years in their mountaintop fortress because they figured out how to trap quail and how to funnel rainwater into cisterns.

Water is a powerful symbol in the Christian faith. Baptism, of course, requires water. Yet even in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), water is used as a powerful metaphor for right living: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

Christmas is about four months away. A little early for gift-giving contemplation, I'll admit. Just the same, consider making the righteous gift of water. Perhaps it is time, if you are so inclined and persuaded, to make a charitable gift to one of the many not-for-profits trying to provide safe drinking water to those who don't have it worldwide. Money to dig a well in an impoverished nation literally will keep people alive.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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