January’s heavy rains have left me more saturated than I’m used to. After a brief eighteen months in the area, I’m still adjusting. And after nearly twenty years in the arid Southwest, I realize that water is good—very good—for all of us. Viewed from outer space, the blue of the earth’s oceans marks ours as “the water planet.” Poets have long sung praises to the waters of life. We have a natural affinity to water, as if we instinctively realize that without it life cannot exist. We enjoy its taste, its look running over rocks, the sounds of crashing waves or a babbling brook. We love swimming, boating, and soaking. None of a living cell’s intricate chemistry can function without water. About 4/5 of all animal bodies—human beings included—are water. Water is essential to digestion, blood circulation, metabolism, not to mention all of our brain and muscle activity.
Life originated in the ocean and even now water is required to sustain it. No life can exist without water. A few species can get by with very little water, but none can survive for long without it. For people, that period is about three days—much less time than we can get by without food. So it’s not surprising that human settlements, including those of prehistoric and nomadic people, have been located near a source of fresh water.
The author of Ecclesiastes, writing roughly twenty-five hundred years ago, described the water cycle when he wrote “All rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; and unto the place from whence the rivers flow, thither they also return again.” The water cycle is more easily visualized than other earthly cycles: evaporation (and transpiration), condensation, precipitation, collection. Through this cycle, nature provides vast quantities of fresh water onto the land, making it available to innumerable organisms on which we depend as well as to our own reservoirs. Pollution, overgrazing, and development have made pure water an increasingly scarce resource; diversions and interruptions of the water cycle have also contributed to growing desertification of our planet.
Learning to live with less, and becoming faithful stewards of what we have, is the essence of ecology. These virtues are also at the heart of religion. Let us keep in mind the limitations of life, that we may live joyously and fruitfully within them. So I’m doing my best to rejoice at this year’s plentiful rain. Hallelujah!
In faith and health, Stephen