The ancients said everything
was composed of four elements:
earth, air, fire and
water. Jesus used all these elements
as tools for teaching and miracle-making,
but water is a clear favorite.
Foot-washing (Iíve heard rumors)
was once part of sacramental ritual,
and Baptism is the first and most
universal sacrament, with some faith
traditions being especially dramatic
and generous with this precious, elemental
How physically and poetically
proper! We gestate in the waters of
our motherís wombs. Our bodies are
so moisture-driven that, deprived of
water, we shrivel and die.
Fountains, Little and Large
But no one would drink from a holy-water
font, would they? This may be a
trick question for those less familiar
with the holy-water receptacles strategically
hung near every Catholic classroom
door in my youth. I saw it as
spiritual largesse to have a container
holding blessed water hanging near
my bedroom doorway so that I could
bless myself coming and going. I
judged the ďholiestĒ water to be that
blessed at the Easter Vigil. It was the
next best thing to living in church, I
thought. Now, I know I was living in
the domestic Church!
In Israel, my husband and I felt
moved to buy a mezuzah, an ornate
case containing two passages from the
Book of Deuteronomy. These verses
encourage the posting of the Great
Commandments in oneís doorway (and
oneís heart). Then I received a holy-water
font as a gift.
The combination makes for a complex
entry ritual, first touching the
mezuzah to express delight in Godís
law, then blessing oneself with holy
water to recall Baptism!
In our small parish church, the baptismal
font is well placed at the main
entrance and its waters always seem
fresh and inviting. I love to see the
children on tiptoe, reaching up in order
to bless themselves. This ample supply
offers a much clearer suggestion of
the living water the Samaritan woman
found so desirable (see John 4:4-42).
As the years pass, my experience of
water has widened and deepened.
Iíve been seasick. Iíve gone singing
(or sighing) in the rain. Iíve sorely
missed indoor plumbing, lamented
dripping faucets, watered beloved
roses, filled the birdbath and dutifully
drunk eight glasses a day. Iíve
experienced drought and surfeit. On
the whole, Iíve given thanks.
In The Dream of the Earth, Father
Thomas Berry writes of disruptions
to the planet, including water, its
major ingredient: ďIf the water is polluted,
it can neither be drunk nor used
for Baptism. Both in its physical reality
and in its psychic symbolism, it is a
source not of life, but of death.Ē
This contemporary thinker reinforces
what I know from Scripture: Water has
power, water is central to our wellbeing.
From the second verse of Genesis
to the final chapter of Revelation,
the Spirit of God moves over the waters.
I am called to keep the water pure and
honor it as holy.
The Churchís uses of water are a
worthy response to a most excellent
gift. A little font can hardly bear the
weight of so much meaning. Yet just
one drop is added to the wine of
Eucharist to represent all who share in
the mystery. I thirst for blessing and it
comes in torrents.