Water is the very essence of life, the most common substance on earth. It covers nearly 80% of the earth’s surface and makes up more than half of our bodies. Humans can live for a month without food, but for less than a week without water. Scientists think that life itself began in water.
The Book of Genesis begins like this:
When God began to create the heavens and the earth–the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters–Genesis 1:1-2
Water stories and imagery fill the Bible. Over and over again in the Hebrew scriptures, we are shown that water is not only for cleansing, it is a symbol of renewal and refreshment for God’s people, especially in the Psalms and the books of the prophets. In the New Testament, from Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River to his turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana to his stilling the storm-tossed waves, these water stories are never about the obvious or the expected. Jesus walks on water. He tells the woman at the well that those who drink of the water he offers will never be thirsty again. He cures a man who cannot enter the pool of Bethsaida, becoming himself the healing water. On the night before he died, Jesus washes his disciples’ dirty, smelly feet as an act of love: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” And once, when Jesus told a story about doing what’s most important, he said, “I assure you that when you have done something for one of the least of these siblings of mine, you have done it for me… for I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.”
All the water that ever will be already exists: we cannot create it. All the water that is has been here from the beginning of time. The water that rocked the ark, the water that parted before Moses, the water that gushed from the rock in the desert, the water drawn by the woman at the well, the water that flowed from Jesus’ side is the very same water that that we use for drinking and bathing and laundry, washing up the dishes, filling the kiddy pool, and watering the basil on the windowsill. The water that puts out the campfire and the house fire, the water that pours from the stormy sky and springs from the courtyard fountain, the water from the cistern in Kenya, the mud puddle in Cambodia, the water in Puget Sound that is home to orcas and salmon and port to ships and canoes, and the water in the font at our baptism is the water that has been here since the beginning of time. May we care for this water and all life which depends on it knowing this truth: All water is holy water.
My thoughts on water and baptism have been deeply influenced by the work of two gifted Episcopal formation leaders, Anne Kitch and Klara Tammany. I’m especially grateful for Anne’s activity book, Water of Baptism, Water for Life, designed for school-aged children, which can be used in a wide variety of contexts. The second edition of Klara’s book, Living Water: Baptism as a Way of Life, has just been released and is an invaluable resource for baptismal preparation and Christian living. It can be used by groups or individuals.
One in ten people on our watery planet lack access to clean water. Learn more here about global issues of water and sanitation. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth is an excellent picture book that helps kids understand worldwide water concerns. We Are Water Protectors won a 2021 Caldecott medal for its stunning illustrations and tells the story of the sacredness of water and our responsibility to safeguard it, inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements of the last several years in North America.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.