Saturday, September 5, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #7... What are you made of?

My funny suntanned feet in the icy clear waters of Lake Minnewanka
I'm guessing I'm made up of about 60% water, a whole slew of minerals, with an intellect, some love, and a soul thrown in for good measure. You?

That first ingredient, water, is the topic of paragraphs 27-31 of Pope Francis' encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home (the entire encyclical can be accessed by clicking here.) The Pope and his encyclical writer friends preface their comments on water use by pointing out that "... the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we have still not solved the problem of poverty." (paragraph 27).

And water is one of those things we waste and discard without thinking. It isn't just important, it's essential to life of all kinds. The Pope's main focus is on human life, but he doesn't forget "terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems" in his concern: "Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences.... Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production." (paragraph 28).

Of course, it's always the poor -- those who lack security, wealth, and political power -- that are most affected, as noted in paragraph 29. In the developing world, they often don't have access to safe water, or have to walk long distances to access it. But even here in a "developed" country like Canada, on June 30, 2015, there were 132 drinking water advisories on 92 First Nations reserves, 4 of them ongoing in my own Alberta backyard. Inadequate water treatment, or pollution of water sources through industrial activity are an issue faced by our marginalized brothers and sisters all over the world. Too often humans are desecrating the fresh water God gives us, which flows and flows until it reaches the oceans, polluting them as well.

To add insult to injury, the poor face inadequate fresh water supplies in some places because large corporations are privatizing and bottling water, selling it at higher prices per litre/gallon than gasoline. Paragraph 30 states that "access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights." And yet we in North America continue to use water and buy bottled water as if it is an unlimited resource, even during drought times like we in the west experienced this summer. Will suburbanites always think green lawns are critically important? One hopes not!

Every so often, we visit the Athabasca Glacier from which our North Saskatchewan river takes its waters, and every time, I feel anxious as we walk the the stony path that holds markers showing how much it has melted over the years. Global climate change means that some parts of the world are already facing acute water shortages. Water is a gift that we are given. We forget that we can't create glaciers, or rainstorms, or a single molecule the way God can.

Paragraph 31 points out the possibility of water shortages within a few decades, but our brothers and sisters in Australia, Brazil, California and so many other places know what it is to live with water scarcity. They have already been forced to implement measures to conserve and protect water sources. Fresh water is anything but infinite, and we should all be doing the same.

St. Francis sang the praises of Sister Water, "so useful, humble, precious and pure" in Il Cantico del Sole (Canticle of the Sun), as if she was a person standing right beside him. He may have guessed that she is within all of us, a big part of our bodily composition. We would all do well to treat water with the kind of love and respect God wants us to show all of creation.

So today, I'd like to invite my readers to get themselves a glass, go to the kitchen faucet, and fill it. Is it clean and clear? Does it have an odor? Is it drinkable? Take a sip. How much does it cost? How do we take it for granted? How much do we waste or pollute it? How can we pollute it less? Where can we find phosphate-free dish soap and laundry soap? What other kinds of things do we pour down our drains without thinking? How can we remember to carry our own water bottles instead of buying bottled water, so that water sources aren't commodified for our convenience? Can we cut down on lawn watering, sidewalk spraying and car washing for the sake of the environment? How can we support our brothers and sisters who are affected by water shortages?

Do we treat Sister Water with the respect she deserves? Or is there room for improvement?

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #8... Biodiversity? What's it worth?

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