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Lent a reflection pool for diving into water usage issues

  • A boy collects water in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4. According to the Philippine government, more than 6,000 people died as a result of Typhoon Haiyan in November. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • A girl transfers drinking water she collected from a faucet Nov. 12 after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban, Philippines. Aid agencies faced challenges getting food and water to the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos affected by the storm. (CNS ph oto/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)
  • Polluted water is seen May 7 in front of the Manguinhos slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, where Pope Francis visited during his visit for World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)
  • Residents fill up containers with water at an emergency distribution center in Poca, W.Va., Jan.11, after the state issued a water ban due to a chemical spill into the Elk River. (CNS photo/Lisa Hechesky, Reuters)
  • Umu Maiga carries her month-old daughter as she starts a cooking stove at a camp in Mopti, Mali, June 8 for those displaced by Islamist rebels. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
  • Syrian refugees walk after collecting water at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq in this July 2012 photo. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
 |  Eco Catholic

Diving deeply into prayer and making sacrifices are the primal stuff of Lent.

For many U.S. Catholics, participating in weekly parish faith sharing gatherings around Scriptural themes, foregoing those luscious squares of 72 percent dark chocolate, eating simple, meatless meals, donating the resulting grocery savings to Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program to feed hungry people in 100 countries -- all these have become the spiritual staples of this penitential season.

For ecologically minded parish coordinators searching for materials relevant to their midweekly Lenten and Advent gatherings, Sr. Terri MacKenzie’s ongoing creativity has proven to be a real gift.

Since NCR featured MacKenzie’s Ecospiritualityresources.com in February 2013, the site has continued to brim generously with Scriptural references, contemporary music resources, poetry, YouTube videos and selections from contemporary environmental spirituality pioneers that are relevant to global developments around ongoing climate crises.

For Lent 2014, MacKenzie has tackled water issues. In her free-to-download resource -- titled “I Thirst:  A Lenten Journey from Desert to Garden” -- MacKenzie, a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, first takes us back in time to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ 40-day desert fast (Matthew 4: 2-3).

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“It seems safe to assume that Jesus was also in a state of extreme thirst,” she writes. “Humans can live without food for weeks, but after one day without water, dehydration leading to death can begin.”

As part of the first week of Lent lesson, MacKenzie asks us to reflect, “What is the thirstiest you can remember being?” That reflection could lead to also asking, what would it be like to walk in a thirsty Jesus’ footsteps?)

In the week two lesson, contemporary developments enter the picture when MacKenzie reminds that that nearly one billion people have no access to clean drinking water, and that drought, desertification or flooding threaten the lives of at least one billion people in more than 110 countries.

Besides water deprivation, water pollution also comes into play in the worldwide water crisis. In the week three lesson, MacKenzie lists the multitude of factors that contribute to the contamination and subsequent suffering: industrial animal production; chemical fertilizers; synthetic chemicals from laundry, dishwashing soaps and chlorine bleaches; drugs flushed down toilets; and hydraulic fracturing and mountaintop coal removal.

Climate change, too, she notes plays a part as droughts and flooding exacerbate, the number of people migrating as a result grow. On energy usage’s role, MacKenzie offers us a mind-boggling bit of math: To produce four gallons of gasoline or a pound of plastic, 70 gallons of water is needed.

“As you review these and other issues that damage and threaten water and all life, what do you hear God saying?” she asks.

For some, MacKenzie said the call is “to lament and grieve the causes of pollution and scarcity”; for others, it’s a call to learn more, to show greater reverence for water and to conserve its use, or to get involved by lobbying for greater protections of rivers, lakes and oceans.

“Perhaps you'll ‘hear’ connections between issues and one or more Stations of the Cross or one or more of Jesus' last words. For example, millions of people are being condemned to death by water pollution and scarcity. Many are forced to say: I am thirsty,” she said.

MacKenzie’s “I Thirst” resource offers similar reflections for the remaining weeks of Lent. Additional resources on water issues are also available. In a November 2013 interview with “Democracy Now” Kevin Anderson and Alice Bow-Larkin of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England observed “we’ll have to consume less” as they discussed remedies to lowering carbon emissions. Their “simplify life” message contained hints of the same themes echoed in MacKenzie’s resources and the words of Pope Francis, his namesake St. Francis of Assisi, and other creation care proponents.

In the interview, which took place during the United Nations climate change summit in Warsaw, Poland, the researchers addressed a number of environmental issues, including excessive air travel and water usage. Anderson and Bow-Larkin showed they walk the talk of their message, telling host Amy Goodman that they take trains wherever they can, even if it means traveling 11 days to get somewhere, as opposed to a few hours on a plane.

Regarding water, Anderson said people will have to think about issues often difficult to accept, such as normalized hygiene practices like showering once or twice a day.

“That means we have to wash -- change our clothes every day, and then we have to use more washing machines,” he said. “So you see this sort of build up, one thing after another, that over the last 10 or 15 years we’ve moved from what were quite high carbon lifestyles to these completely profligate, extraordinarily high carbon lifestyles, and we’ve made them normal.”

The new normalcy related to water use, lifestyle choices and their ramifications that Anderson and Bow-Larkin discuss offers ripe spiritual and conscience discussion topics as Lent approaches.

A third resource on water use comes from Christiana Peppard, an assistant professor of theology, science and ethics at Fordham University. In a recent interview the blog Catholic Ecology, she discussed her new book “Just Water: Theology, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis,” Peppard placed water in the context of justice and as a “right-to-life issue.”

“The fact is that, globally, the people who generally bear the brunt of fresh water scarcity are people living in situations of poverty and/or subsistence existence. They lack water through no fault of their own, but rather as a result of the location of their birth,” she said.

“How do we, as U.S. citizens sitting atop the global economic structure, grapple with that iniquity?” she asked. “… It’s destabilizing to think that my access to fresh water is the exception, not the norm, worldwide—just because I happened to be born in a particular place and time, to a middle-class family with a house and reliable municipal infrastructure.”

Peppard also explored the issues of water in a series of TED talk videos, one looking at where we get the water we use, and the other examining the problem of water scarcity

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