Water in Religion
Religion can influence climate change, encourage conservation and eliminate pollution. I’m not proposing that religious leaders voice opinions in matters of science and politics, there is too much of that already. Spiritual guidance, social behavior and salvation of souls are the rightful realm of religion. Religion has the role and responsibility to create positive effective change in society. New creative strategies are needed to bring awareness to an approaching world wide water crisis. To teach a reverence for water can be a strategy to bring about awareness and change.
In both ancient and modern religions there is a close relationship to water. In Wicca, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism, Judaism, Chiristianity and Rastafari water is used for cleansing, purification and healing. The world over, in nearly every faith, water symbolizes rebirth and serves in sacred rites. The mikvah, ghusi, tarpana and baptisms are performed with”living” water. Within the next few decades half of the world’s population will be affected by shortage and scarcity of water. Will half of the world’s population be denied their rituals and religious observances?
Shinto the indigenous religion of Japan venerated Kami, deities that inhabited natural phenomena like mountains, trees, rocks and springs. Waterfalls are sacred to Shinto. Worship of Kami’s begins with the all important act of purification with water. Inside many sacred shrines are found troughs for washing and purification.
Every Hindu temple has a pond near it and devotees are supposed to bathe before entering. A morning cleansing is a basic obligation. In performing tarpana a worshipper makes a cup with the hands and slowly pours water back into a river while reciting mantras. To Hindus all water is sacred, especially rivers.
Judaism has water rituals that involve total immersion in “living” water like the sea, a river or a spring. There are numerous Jewish laws that require washing of the hands and feet to restore ritual purity.
Catholic Christians make use of holy water before entering a church, for blessings, dedications, exorcisms and burials. There are initiation rituals of baptism for those accepting the Christian faith that range from aspersions, affusion and full immersion in water. Catholics believe that the stain of original sin is actually removed during baptism. Christians teach that just as water fills everything it enters, God fills those who are immersed in him.
Islam uses water for cleansing and purifying. Muslims must be pure before approaching God in prayer. Ghusi is a major ablution where the body is washed in pure water before Friday prayers or touching the Qur’an. Wudu is an ablution to remove minor ritual impurity by washing the face, rubbing the head, washing hands and arms to the elbow and feet to the ankle and is performed before each of the five daily prayers. One of the main principles which emerge from Islamic teaching is that every human has the right to clean water to quench thirst and also that water is a precious resource not to be wasted even during abundance. Shari’a which today refers to Islamic law in general originally meant the “law of water”. Shari’a identified water as God’s gift, which no one may deny another.
Many religions consider particular bodies of water to be sacred or at least auspicious. There is Lourdes for the Catholics, the river Ganges for the Hindus and the Zam Zam Well in Islam. Water is the purifier, a blessing, a gift from God. The significance of water in religion is a combination of it’s purifying properties and the importance as a life element. Although water is used in rituals and purification, some consider that water itself is sacred and must be kept from being polluted.
For too long water has been treated as a commodity. Much of the world’s water is saline or polluted, unfit for agriculture or consumption by animals and humans. Climate change will inundate coastal areas with sea level rise and alter patterns of precipitation the world over. Water rights and laws for rivers that cross national boundaries and regions are complicated issues to be resolved. Global population now stands at 7 billion and is increasing. Increased demand and a dwindling supply of fresh water is a cause for concern.
Action and agreement on water issues is critical for nations to avert mass migration and war. A new awareness and planning is required of individuals in every country. To do this, new strategies to implement action are needed. Religion is a means to influence people which can help alter climate change, encourage conservation and reduce pollution. Religion can create positive effective change in society by teaching a reverence for water. Water is a blessing, a gift and essential for all forms of life.
Whatever faith or belief you follow, we should have a reverence for water.