Simon Aley, our Ordinand, writes:
Monday – Here is a drawing of the cosmos of Genesis 1 from Nahum Sarna’s book Genesis: The Heritage of Biblical Israel with the dome of the firmament on top and if you look carefully the pillars of the sky and the earth curve inward to form a dome below. Some say it is almost egg shaped – the cosmos in an egg form representing life, and note the storehouses in the waters above the firmament for snow, hail and wind and the fountains that bring water up from the waters under the earth descending to the waters of the nether earth. A far cry from our modern day understanding of this planet and universe.
How do you relate to this world view? Do we find it naïve? And yet when we think of heaven, do we not automatically look upwards imagining somewhere beyond the rain clouds? What cannot be ignored is the importance of water. Half of the features in this conception are water-related and it shows how water is central to life as the trees and the birds demonstrate. A few fishes might have been nice too! Many other creation stories evolved in old testament times including the Babylonian Enuma Elish, often with dramatic tales of warring gods. In Genesis the whole creation is formed by God alone. No battles or histrionics and on the second day God created the waters – He just did it and it was good.
Tuesday This photo is from my recent trip to Uganda and is of Lake Bunyonyi in south west Uganda. Bunyonyi means “little birds” because so many species of little birds like canaries, weaver birds and sun birds inhabit the shore of the lake. Larger waterfowl are rarely found here as the lake is so deep and has hardly any fish for them to feed on. It is a huge crater lake with many small islands, some of which have been home, hospital and security for people with leprosy while others are used as a safe haven for orphaned children such as little Isaiah who I met on one of the islands. The land is rich and fertile and long canoes made of hollowed tree trunks ferry produce over the lake to shoreside markets. Perhaps not grain here as the psalmist reflects but bananas, matoke (plantain), vegetables, tea and reeds to roof homes and now bring tourists seeking relaxation and peace in this busy landlocked country. And around the lake people quarry rock by hand from the hills that surround this lake but need to be careful and sparing. If ever Lake Bunyonyi was to be breached through over quarrying it would instantly flood and drown the town and inhabitants of Kabale and surrounding villages. God not only waters the earth – He holds it in place and we need to take care of the containers He has provided.
Wednesday Rivers and bodies of water often form boundaries, as between Rutland and Northamptonshire, and even nations. Uganda is separated by the River Gatuna from its smaller neighbour, Rwanda and I crossed there to get into Uganda even though the border remains closed to commercial traffic. While I was in Uganda the two presidents Museveni (Uganda) and Kagame (Rwanda) met on the bridge over the Gatuna (you can just see the bridge barrier in the background where I had crossed a few days before) to discuss terms for the re-opening which involves freedom for political prisoners on both sides.
The border remains closed but a further meeting is imminent and people are praying that the border will re-open soon and free many from the poverty on both sides generated by this closure, which has remained closed as much by personal jealousies between the two political leaders, once good friends than any practical necessity. Do our relationships ever become similarly strained with harmful consequences?
Elsewhere rivers are used for baptism as this picture shows, freeing us from the slavery of sin as our sins are symbolically washed away in the waters of baptism.
Note from today’s reading that straightway after being baptised the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10). Both the principal sacraments of the Church of England use water – if you had not seen how water is used in Communion – then watch carefully next time you are at a service. Both have a cleansing act to them and both free the recipient of the water to serve God more fully.
Thursday This plastic bottle from Uganda is both a source of pollution and health. The Rwenzori are the mountains above Kassese in Western Uganda and the source of most mineral water in the country. Millions of bottles are produced and litter lakes, streams, towns and countryside. But …. fill them up with water from dirty water sources that many Ugandans use and leave them out in the sun and most of the harmful organisms in the water are killed off and sometimes passing poor children call out asking for these empty bottles to enable them to do this and make what they drink more potable.
The water is described as “Marah” meaning bitter and has resonance with the Passover or seder meal which we will celebrate in Barrowden in Holy Week (to which all are welcome) and includes marah, bitter herbs reminding the Jewish people of their suffering in exile. It also reminds us of the suffering we too endure for our faith. Pollution can be toxic and is harmful – our taste buds can help us recognise unpleasant or bitter taste, but we have to take care. Suffering is often associated with bitterness but sometimes also sweetness – hence bitter-sweet is a term often used. Our polluted waters are now a hot topic for debate and action. How are we as churches and Christians responding to this hot topic?
Friday OK this is much nearer home. In our Benefice, this is the River Welland at Duddington Bridge and the water is roaring and filling the arches of the bridge with all the rain we have had. In East Africa this is the dry season (these countries have just two seasons: wet and dry) and now is harvest time, and yet torrential rains have fallen in western Uganda and Rwanda, while Kampala and to the north east of Kampala they are experiencing extreme heat and locust invasions. In Rwanda, the rice fields at the bottom of the 80-mile-long gorge from the capital, Kigali have all flooded destroying this year’s crop.
The Psalmist in Psalm 69 uses the imagery of water and flooding as a metaphor of lived experience, being overwhelmed, suffering and feeling unable to cope. The water is rising up to the neck and while the text does not admit it the implication is clear they cannot swim and fear drowning. Uganda has a lot of water for a land-locked country but few have learned to swim, few have learned coping strategies when they feel they are drowning under pressure. Lent is a time of preparation – so what coping strategies are we prepared to learn this Lent when we feel we too are drowning? As our farmers once again have to move livestock to higher land because of floods. What measures are we taking for the spiritual floods that can too easily overcome us?
Weekend These three Ugandans are standing in front of a large water tank in the picture on the left; built locally with money from Afrinspire, the charity I was with in Uganda. Afrinspire have built 79 water tanks and protected 47 water springs and while I was there 3 new water tanks were blessed at a Roman Catholic primary school, St Augustine’s in Rubaaga in the Isingero District of Western Ankole saving children walking several kilometres up and down steep slopes to find an often dirty water source at the expense of their education. Rubaaga sits at the top of a high veld on the Rift and so any rainfall quickly falls away leaving the land parched. You can see how the guttering on the adjacent building collects any rainwater and feeds it into the tank. It can cost as little as £2 per person, depending on location and population to provide clean water for up to 20 years through projects such as these as well as teach local people a new trade. Without them it is a long and often dangerous trek to find water.
One local farm owner I met admitted he only knew he had a water spring on his land by following local cattle who knew the location of a spring and then he could start to improve the water quality there. Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well reminds us of just how vulnerable some people are when water dries up as does their dignity and hope for living. Christ offers us the living water of the Holy Spirit to drink and with that we will never thirst again spiritually. These projects help provide water to communities so that they never thirst again physically.