Water and Faith

Pope Francis -- religious leader for more than one billion, and inspiration to countless more across the world -- has released his much anticipated encyclical on the environment. While the document, "Laudato Si," whose name translates to "Be Praised," has been widely discussed and analyzed, one largely overlooked section is devoted entirely to the issues our world is facing about water. The Pope states that water is not only sacramental and holy, but a source of life.

"Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems," the Pope writes.

But the Pope's encyclical digs even deeper into the many political issues confronting so many in the world today -- including the lack of access to fresh drinking water, the poor quality of water often available to the poor, the privatization of water, and the growing scarcity of this resource.

"Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture, and industry," the encyclical reads. "Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term."

Earth is God's gift to humankind, and our job is to care for the planet. At a time when we are facing so many issues related to water, people of all faith traditions and beliefs can gain some inspiration from Pope Francis' words.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule in June that clarifies the Clean Water Act, originally signed into law in 1972. The Rule provides Clean Water Act level protections for streams and other waterways nationwide. The Clean Water Rule restores protection to 60 percent of America's streams that have been protected by the Clean Water Act, but haven't had safeguards implemented. I applaud this step toward cleaner and healthier water for communities and people all across the country. We should protect our water sources today to ensure access tomorrow for not only ourselves but future generations.

Every being on Earth -- plant, animal, and human alike -- relies on clean water for survival. As children of God, we have been given the task by our Creator to protect creation -- including God's gift of water. This clean water rule is a stewardship tool that Americans can use to protect the health of our water systems from rivers and lakes to seasonal streams and wetlands. This rule is said to protect the drinking water of 117 million, or one in every three Americans, by protecting the upstream sources that flow into larger bodies of water.

As someone who has enjoyed the bounty of God's waters including the lakes, rivers and streams for decades, it pains me that my grandchildren may not be able to experience a childhood of clean water. Half of the nation's rivers and streams are in a condition unfit to drink from or swim in, and unsafe to consume fish from because they are filled with chemicals. The new clean water rule is an important step in ensuring clean waters for future generations.

As we read in John 4:14, "But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

God's waters are the ultimate form of nurturing, and the Earth is created to sustain us. In agreeing to conserve and protect even a fraction of the Earth's water, we are doing our share in honoring the earth that God has bestowed upon us.

This belief that water is sacred is not limited to the Christian tradition; nearly every religion has something to say about the special role that water plays in our spiritual lives. Religious Jews, for instance, visit the sacred mikveh, where they immerse themselves in water in order to purify themselves. We also know that we have been called to protect and responsibly care for that which God has given us. This includes working to ensure the cleanest water for ourselves, our neighbors and our grandchildren. Many clean water advocates ask for "fishable, swimmable, and drinkable" water. It is within our power to provide this protection, and the EPA has taken a strong step toward creating a useful rule.

I join those of all faiths in calling on our elected leaders in Congress and in state houses across the country to protect God's gift of water. I hope that our leaders see the value of strong stewardship to people now and for generations to come.