April 14, 2022
We will go into the future as a single sacred community or we will perish in the desert.
People in Gaza rely on water from public filling stations.
—Pollution on tap in Gaza
It’s Shrove Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras—the night before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. As I’m waiting for a friend, a message on my phone alerts me to the information that it’s World Water Day. Water scarcity in the West Bank and Gaza is an issue I’ve explored in some detail, beginning with my first trip to Israel-Palestine some ten years ago with friends from Earth Ministry.
The water situation there hasn’t changed much since then. As Amnesty International reports, soon after Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, in June 1967, the Israeli military authorities consolidated complete power over all water resources and water-related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 73%, West Bank Palestinians use 17%, and illegal Jewish settlers use 10%. While 10-14% of Palestine’s GDP is agricultural, 90% of them must rely on rain-fed farming methods.
I’ve not been to Gaza—it’s next to impossible to get in since its border has been controlled by Israel—but I have friends who endure the reality of life over there, where the water is essentially undrinkable, primarily because of the destruction of sewage plants during Israeli attacks. A recent report sums up the hard news.
We all have a chance to learn something about this through a Wednesday night forum on April 20th featuring staff from The Middle East Children's Alliance. They will lead a discussion about the Maia Project that brings clean water to schools in Gaza by installing filtration systems. It’s a project endorsed by our Bishop; members of the Bishop’s Committee and the Cathedral’s Mideast Focus Committee are working at raising awareness and funds.
It's all part of what we’re calling Mutual Ministry: the recognition that we do not work in silos but that, for example, Creation Care connects directly with issues of environmental injustice, which in turn connects with ongoing racial injustice. And all of it calls us because of a love for a world seeded into us by the love given to us by Christ.
There are no borders in the geography of Jesus.
The next night, Judy and I go to the Cathedral for the Ash Wednesday service and listen to Eliacin give the homily, where he beautifully connects the mark of ash on the forehead received tonight—from dust you came, to dust you return—to the mark of oil on that same forehead that will come for the newly baptized at the Easter Vigil. Which this year will include my grandson Walter, who will be baptized at the Vigil at Saint Mark’s in the Bowery in New York. The hand of the priest, flesh on flesh, the sign of the cross.
You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
From death and a desert wandering to new life, rising up out of the waters in a resurrected body that is not simply one’s old body but is every body, everyone, the body of Christ, raised with Him, meaning that we’re alive in love, immortalized in and through love. The waters of baptism—often just a few drops, a handful—signify this love which cleanses and heals and, yes, restores.
We take water so much for granted until we don’t have it. But of course the beauty and power of water is at the heart of this new life, both literally in our bodily need but also aesthetically in its sheer beauty. One of the first places I felt something of this was on the Gulf Coast of Florida where my grandparents lived. At night, as a teenager, I’d leave our rented apartment and walk down to the beach and just sit there and stare out at the dark waves, the sky and stars. It was there that I first sensed that we are truly as wide as the sky.
That feeling remains every time I’m at the ocean or simply sitting at the shore of Puget Sound or a river in the North Cascades. It is as deep as the sky, older than the universe itself. What’s left is gratitude, because you know you’ve done nothing to deserve it. And you know that what you feel is a holy thing. The old life gone. Nothing left but grace.
Rising up from the ashes.
After all the years of laboring you arrive here, at this place, this Easter, with the memory of ash on your forehead, yourself as dust and yet with the love for a newly baptized grandson seeded deep inside the soil of your heart. Knowing that there is work to be done in the vineyard, in this wounded world, and knowing too that there are new generations preparing for the task. May there be rainfall and snow melt, flowing rivers and clean lakes, for those who follow us. May there be clean water.
Longtime Saint Mark's parishioner and former vestry member Doug Thorpe is Professor Emeritus of English at Seattle Pacific University.
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