Myriad cultures and religions around the world maintain an intense connection to water. As a life source and ultimate cleanser, water plays a crucial role in rituals — whether spiritual or secular.
During the Wudu ritual, Muslims cleanse their feet, legs, hands and elbows before engaging in prayer. Their belief is that just as prayer cleanses the soul, the body must also be washed with water. Orthodox Jews practice Mikveh, or immersion in a ”gathering of water.” This ritual is traditionally required before ceremonies of conversion, marriage and the Sabbath. Christians of every stripe use water in the ritual of Baptism, during which a person is committed to God and a Christian way of life. In addition to washing themselves before entering the temple, Hindus believe that water from the River Ganges (in India) is sacred, which is why they go there regularly to wash away their iniquities.
Meaningful connections to water do not only manifest in religious practices. My good friends organized beautiful ceremonies for their children, dedicating them to nature with the use of water. My husband, an avid surfer, has always said: “The wave is a living, breathing thing.” Over the years, he has explained unbelievable things that happened to him in the water, events that made him realize more about who he was and his place in the world. I certainly can’t deny the relaxing effect of walking along a Caribbean beach or sitting on a rocky cliff above Lake Superior (thank you, negative ions). From Japanese bathhouses to Arab baths in the South of Spain, I have also engaged in my fare share of cleansing rituals in various cultures — each lovely and meaningful in its own way.
Given the importance of water in our lives and the lives of those around the globe, given the power with which it is imbued, it is horrifying that we have rendered toxic a large part of our world’s water supply. Though it’s definitely fair to point fingers at oil companies and foreign manufacturers, I am also complicit. Whether it’s an excessive use of water bottles, the (perhaps unknowing) support of companies who engage in unsafe water practices, or simply not staying informed about water issues around the world, I know I could do much better. Recognizing the international importance of water is a good first step, but now it’s time to take action.