“How lucky I am to have found a place, people and program that are full of the heart and soul of the essence of the spirituality I feel when I jump in the ocean, watch the snow falling, smell the autumn leaves….” This was the comment of a young woman after she participated in a WATERSPIRIT program.
A pastor of a large church, whose members have also participated in WATERSPIRIT programs, echoed her words: “WATERSPIRIT has really helped members of our parish community live and act by values that show the relationship between water and the sacredness of God’s creation.”
WATERSPIRIT is an ecology and spirituality ministry sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Its home base is located in Stella Maris Retreat Center on the New Jersey shore overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. While many of its activities take place at this site, WATERSPIRIT programs have traveled throughout the US, to over fifteen states from Maine to California, from the Great Lake states to Florida and Louisiana.
It is the voices of people like the two quoted above that capture the essence of WATERSPIRIT’s mission, which is to educate people of all ages on global, regional and local water issues, inspiring them to preserve and protect water through personal behavior and support of systemic changes. However, at the heart of all WATERSPIRIT programs and activities is the deepening of a spirituality that recognizes the sacredness of nature, the interdependence throughout creation and the role of water in sustaining all life.
As Director of WATERSPIRIT, I have often been inspired, motivated and energized by so many participating in our programs:
• eighth grade students, who having spent an hour cleaning the beach, sitting totally quiet at the ocean’s edge, meditating on the presence of God in the sounds, sights and smells of the sea;
• communities of women religious developing a plan to conserve water in their homes and institutions;
• residents of a senior citizens community reverently sharing memories of how in their own religious traditions they first had a sense of the sacredness of water;
• high school students determined to have bottled waterremoved from their school;
• the inner city high school senior, terrified at seeing the ocean for the first time, but by the end of the day, standing on the beach staring at the sea and sighing, “It is so beautiful.”;
• groups planning their strategies for opposing hydrofracking or supporting a clean ocean zone;
• the disabled woman, gingerly walking with her cane out toward the beach, to join a group in the “Prayer of Directions” which acknowledges the presence of the Spirit of God in north, east, south and west;
• the parish deciding that at an early autumn Sunday liturgy, families would bring water from their different vacation locations and pour all these waters into one bowl signifying that there is “one water” which sustains life throughout the planet.
This understanding of the holiness of creation has also been a deepening realization within the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace over many years and has been written into our Chapter Acts and Constitutions. Our Constitutions commit us to valuing the gifts of creation. Over twenty years ago, we stated in our Acts our belief that our growing understanding of our interrelatedness with all of creation called us to a deeper commitment to our mission of peacemaking and challenged us to continue our education regarding the interrelatedness of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. We subsequently committed ourselves to a focus on the ethics, economics, and politics of water.
Today’s WATERSPIRIT programs and activities connect water with climate change and global warming. The biologist, Travis Huxman, has said it this way, “Water is the hammer with which climate change will hit the Earth.” The overwhelming number of the world’s scientists agree that increasing floods, droughts, melting snow caps, rising seas and extreme storms are all, at least partially, the result of global warming.
The spirituality that increasingly is underlying our ministries such as WATERSPIRIT is a spirituality that relates to an emerging consciousness seen on the international scene, even within the cautious chambers of the United Nations. Recently, the General Assembly discussed practical implications of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report, “Harmony with Nature,” which states, “Ultimately, environmentally destructive behavior is a result of a failure to recognize that human beings are an inseparable partof nature and that we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves.”
Earth is a living system. It is an indivisible, interdependent and interrelated community of which humans are a part. It is ever clearer; we cannot damage water, her systems and her relationship with all of creation without damaging ourselves. It is also clear that, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”
- Suzanne Golas, csjp, Director, WATERSPIRIT