Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Sacredness of the Sea


The Sacredness of the Sea

by Vickie Machado


The sea is a sacred mystery. Covering over two-thirds of the Earths surface and holding over 1.3 billion cubic km of water, the ocean is the wildest, most expansive place on earth. As of December 2021, the most accurate and precise estimate of the deepest part of the ocean was 10,935 meters, roughly 6.79 miles down. To put this in context, Mt. Everest, one of the tallest mountains on earth, is 8,848 meters high. On average, the ocean is 2.3 miles deep— another alarming depth for many of us who have only waded out chest deep. Venture offshore by boat or plane, far from land, and you will get a sense of just how massive the ocean is, as every direction reveals a continuous horizon for miles to come. Whether youre deep below its surface, in the middle of it, or simply on the shore looking out, within this space rests the mysteries of life yet to be explored and uncovered. There is a power that the sea evokes—a sacredness that asks us to stop and listen.


The expansiveness of the ocean often puts life in perspective bringing with it an awe, fear, and humility when you realize just how big the world is. In some cases, its the same astonishment that met Moses at the burning bush or on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3)—the amazement of being in the presence of God. In other instances, its the gentle whisper Elijah heard in the midst of stillness after disaster—a reminder to listen and pay attention in the midst of despair (1 Kings 19). Still, feelings that arise with the sea may be comparable to the frustrations that accompanied the Israelites (Exodus 15) or the tribulations that met Jesus as each respectively wandered in their own wildernesses (Matthew 4). However God decides manifest, the experience is somehow magnified by such vast and powerful natural spaces.


Its not just the setting that invokes Gods presence but the ocean itself has a message that highlights the intersectionality of our world and the justice we are called to pursue. With increased research, the sea is shouting to be heard—plastics polluting our water, fisheries being depleted, corals crying out like John in the wilderness about what is to come. The rapid warming of our oceans is a warning sign. According to NASA, 90% of global warming is occurring in these very waters. With warmer oceans, comes the thinning of ice shelves; sea level rise; coral bleaching; the loss of coastal protection, marine species, and ecosystems; threats to food security; increasing diseases; extreme weather events; and further pressure on coastal populations—nearly 40% of the worlds population.


Fifty years ago, in October 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), which prohibits unregulated dumping that would harm human and marine health. As people of faith, we know the term sanctuary—its a place of refuge, a safe haven, a shelter from the storm. Some of our churches may even be sanctuaries for those seeking asylum. Sanctuary can provide a glimmer of hope. The important recognition is that the same forces of climate change that are causing warming seas, sea level rise, coastal flooding, ocean acidity, and an overall strain on local resources are creating environmental refugees and pushing people toward seeking refuge. Such connections show that we do not exist in a bubble. Most of all there is a sense of wonder and reverence as the creation teaches us about our Creator and our call to love our neighbors—fellow humans as well as sea life and water. By caring for the ocean—as vast and unknown as it may be—we are caring for each other.


Dr. Vickie Machado is a third generation South Floridian and holds a PhD from the University of Florida, where she focused her studies on Religion & Nature and Religion in the Americas. She also serves as a leader for the Eco-Stewards Program, a creative community that shapes, inspires and connects young adult leaders (ages 20-30) through storytelling and place-based pilgrimages focused on faith and the environment.

Sacred Water in the Columbia Gorge


Sacred Water in the Columbia Gorge

by Nancy Corson Carter


The concept of Sacred Water” has rarely been so vivid in my experience as when I attended the PEC national conference Blessing the Waters of life: Justice and Healing for Our Watersheds” September 24 -29, 2017, at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center, Corbett, Oregon.


Two of my photos illustrate:


PHOTO ONE: Facing east, we look from Menuchas high vantage over the lower Columbia Gorge which symbolizes the rich history as well as current problems of Indigenous peoples living there.

During a pre-conference option, Spirit of the Salmon: Water, Culture, and Justice in the Columbia Watershed,” we learned of the spiritual crisis of present-day tribal peoples, from representatives of the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce. These are survivors of those who have lived in the Columbia River Basin for 10,000s of years. But now the industrialization of American life, specifically the hydroelectric dams built without their consent, has stripped away their culture as well as their livelihood.  We are the water” they assert; this land is part of our bodies and our spirit as we are linked with the salmon”—now reduced to about 1% of their historical abundance.  They shared with us their grief over broken treaties and lost lifeways but also their spirit to survive with efforts to keep their languages and traditions alive with new generations. We gratefully received the hospitality of a meal in the longhouse, their church, and being led in a ceremony on the shore of the Columbia to purify all the waters of Creation.”


Their elders warned us that all humans are suffering a sickness, and we must have the courage to go from overweening focus on the mind to listening to our hearts, which are in touch with the divine. This struck us with greater and greater power as we learned of the terrible ways that the Doctrine of Discovery was taken as a license to exploit native people and their lands by the 15th century Christian European explorers—with lingering scars. One elders wisdom: Interconnectedness could change the world, especially as we have very little time left to change!”


PHOTO TWO:  This shows one of the several springs at Menucha that invite contemplation of the resources of our faith for peace and healing. Menucha” is a word from Hebrew that suggests rebuilding,” “restoring, renewing” and the word still” as in Psalm 23, He leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul.”

In the following part of the conference, filled with workshops and various panels and speakers, Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing explored sacred waters with us from her work with Revelation and other biblical texts. The waters in the Bible bless and heal us she said, and they also symbolize injustices of the world. She reminded us that in Genesis God saw that it was good” and our role is to follow Gods seeing such goodness and beauty (Hebrew tob) in the planet daily. We can let this seeing lead us to love the poor, future generations, and nature itself.


The photo of one of the four or five small Menucha springs reminds us of the gift of having places and times to enter into the practice of opening our hearts to Gods guidance, of listening to the still small voice.”


Following these thoughts, the worship committee prepared hand-outs for anyone to use if they chose to spend some quiet contemplative time by one of these spring-pools during the conference. We selected five of the many sonnets in Guites book to emphasize the presence of sacred water” in Christs life, and we added scriptures to amplify his beautiful work.




These five meditations selected generally follow the life of Christ, beginning with his baptism and ending with a vision of the resurrection dawn. They were chosen from the evocative sonnets of Malcolm Guite. Guite, a poet, priest, and singer-songwriter, generously shared these five sonnets to copy in full (sorry not to copy them all here; the book is still in print) from his collection, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012). This text includes several helpful appendices which include scriptural references, bibliography, and a short essay on The Sonnets and Liturgy.



                                    Meditation 1

                                    The Baptism of Christ

                                    Luke 3.21


                                    Meditation 2

                                    The Miracle at Cana

                                    John 4.13-14 (Jesus and the Woman of Samaria as corollary)


                                    Meditation 3

                                    The Call of the Disciples

                                    Revelation 22.1-2


                                    Meditation 4

                                    Jesus Weeps

                                    Luke 19.41-2


                                    Meditation 5

                                    O Oriens [O Radiant Dawn]

                                    Luke 1.78-9


Nancy Corson Carter is a writer and professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College. Her most recent book is A GREEN BOUGH: POEMS FOR RENEWAL (2019).

Lake Michigan’s Legacy


Sharon Waller

Lake Michigan’s Legacy 

by Eric Diekhans


The Great Lakes contain 84% of the fresh surface water in North America. But like drought-stricken areas out west, the lakes are being affected by global warming as extreme changes in water levels batter cities and increase pollution.


“The changes in water level are a battle between precipitation and evaporation”, says Sharon Waller, an environmental engineer and member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Waller’s particular focus is Lake Michigan, and its impact on her hometown of Chicago and the surrounding region.

“The last five years have been the wettest on record. and that’s driving higher lake levels,” Waller says. “Waves don’t have the opportunity to dissipate their energy on the run-up to a sloped beach. They crash against the shoreline, and in some cases buildings, at almost full strength.”


Lake Michigan has always experienced changing water levels. The big difference now is the rapidly increased time scale.  “The time between low and high has greatly decreased,” says Waller. “It used to take a decade to get between low and high water level, but now we’ve seen a change of six feet in just over seven years.”


Cities are struggling to adapt to this new reality when planning and repairing shoreline structures, including barriers and buildings. Engineering design is usually based on historic records, but Lake Michigan is changing so rapidly that we can’t assume past trends are indicative of what will happen in the future.


This can be seen in the Chicago area’s tunnel and reservoir project (known as the Deep Tunnel), that began construction in the 1970s. It’s due to be completed by the end of this decade, but it’s already not expected to not to accommodate current flood waters.


The affects of flooding has serious consequences for our health and the environment. When sewers overflow, the risk reversing into our drinking water, and flowing to the Illinois River, and eventually, to the Gulf of Mexico.


Mitigating Flooding


Dealing with this new level of flooding is not just a job for government, in Waller’s view. It also means involving residential landowners in finding ways to reduce the impact of flooding.


“I installed a storm water basin under my patio with permeable pavers to keep storm water on site,” says Waller. “I did it with materials from Home Depot for less than $7,000.”


Another possibility is a green roof. Even something as simple as trays of rooftop garden plants can help soak up water instead of allowing it to run down to a storm drain.


Waller is also a big proponent of reusing waste water, which is currently banned in Illinois.


While some states allow a third pipe with gray water that is not potable but can be used for irrigation, that’s difficult to implement in older cities. Instead, Waller advocates letting industry reuse water. This also helps decrease pollution discharge to our environment.


People can also help mitigate the pollution that occurs when waterways flood. One thing we can be aware of is the use of phosphate products, which accelerates the growth of algae. “Illinois is one of twelve states that have been sued for the Gulf of Mexico dead zone,” Waller points out.


Waller is challenging children to ask their parents to buy phosphate-free soaps and lawn fertilizer. She’d also like to see youth groups go to stores and ask them to carry more phosphate-free products.


Another great way to make churches and youth groups more aware of how to tackle our water crises is through screenings of the Netflix documentary, Brave Blue World. “It’s message is that technology exists for us to adapt to climate change,” says Waller, “but policy is needed, and that requires politics.”


Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, a television and video producer for the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters


The Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake team by the Bay

Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters

by Natalie Johnson, M.A

People of faith, no matter their religion, are united in one fundamental expression – love.  We are called to love people and all of Creation.  Water is a matrix of Creation, a ritual substance, and a gift from God intended to benefit all.

Through water we are all connected.  Our survival depends on clean water and it is a necessity for all life on Earth.  Water keeps us alive by quenching our thirst, providing sustenance, recreation, and religious ritual practice (christening, wudu, mikvah, etc.)   We are often tempted to create and maintain firm boundaries between old and new, humanity and the rest of creation, between one another, as well as between the divine and ourselves.  However, just like water flows in between and through, we believe that communities of faith can bring about a transformation of awareness and action that reflects respect for our brothers and sisters in this watershed, and for future generations.

Our faith also calls us to foster healthy communities and be in relationship with water in ways that contribute to healing and restoration.  The way that we treat water is a reflection of how we treat those around us, and we must bear responsibility for it.  This connects us with the golden rule common to all major faith traditions - to love our neighbor and at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) we like to use the "Watershed Golden Rule" of environmentalist Wendell Berry, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."  In doing so we are expressing our faith and commitment to environmental justice.

Ethically, fresh water is a substance that requires attention to justice: It is the poor and vulnerable who are first and most profoundly affected by lack of sufficient, clean, fresh water.  In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, many communities are exposed to pollution that place an unequal burden on the people living there.  Coastal and inland flooding also takes its hardest toll on marginalized communities. In our context, God makes the rain, but we make the runoff. Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one source of water pollution that is increasing in local streams and waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Development that increases the impervious surfaces on land creates stormwater runoff that leads to water quality impairment. When rain falls on roofs, streets, and parking lots, water cannot soak into the ground and runs off as polluted stormwater, entering storm drains that empty unfiltered into nearby creeks.

Congregations own hundreds of acres of land, with large parking lots and roofs that generate urban stormwater runoff. By implementing best management practices (BMPs), congregational properties can be retrofitted to reduce stormwater runoff.  Restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed requires ensuring that communities have access to clean water and healthy environments.  Public policies are needed to bring about major change and to undo the harm that has been done to our environment, specifically the watersheds of the Chesapeake region.  As individuals, and in our institutions, our behaviors can go a long way toward harming - or healing - our watersheds.  

Changing public policies offers lasting, systematic change.  In the past, our supporters have worked to bring about such policy changes as the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016 which limited the use and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides which are harmful to the smallest of God’s creatures. More recently we advocated for The Environmental Human Rights Amendment which seeks to place in the Declaration of Rights of our Maryland state constitution the right of each person to a healthful environment. We all have a moral obligation to engage both in the political process and to adopt behaviors that ensure justice and respect for the entire web of life.   When we forge a spiritual relationship with our local waterways and pay attention to what is happening, we may learn what God is calling us to do as stewards of Creation.

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) is a nonprofit organization that works to engage congregations in being good caretakers of our shared watershed.  IPC works to raise awareness of the power that people of faith have to restore clean water and environmental justice and can offer hands-on assistance to install healing projects, such as rain gardens, tree plantings, native plantings and more.  Hundreds of IPC’s partner congregations have pledged to join our movement to help protect the sacred blessings of Creation, with many forming green teams to lead their efforts. We ask our supporters to use their voice for justice as we envision a time when faith communities across the Chesapeake honor, care for, and protect the watershed we share so all our communities, and future generations, may thrive.

Natalie Johnson is Office Manager and Development Assistant at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. They won the RESTORING CREATION AWARD from Presbyterians for Earth Care in 2018.