The grace and the power of a church is its people, and that showed during the past weekend's water crisis. At houses of worship regardless of the religion, congregants brought extra water for those who might need it. Members took water to senior residences and other places so individuals wouldn't have to go to water-distribution sites. Churchgoers practiced their faith in the world, making circles wider than the sanctuary or the neighborhood. They made sure their own resources were available, too, like having plenty of water for their religious education camps and, out of town, offering safe tap water when most stores had sold out of bottled water.
Places of worship stepped forward with people helping people. It was the work aspect, the togetherness, the acts where religion helps best and we see holy work. Challenges are best approached that way.
I don't know if sacred rituals were limited or postponed — I haven't heard about any rescheduled baptisms, for example — or that people trusted blessed water to be pure in the way that some fervent believers drink strychnine trusting God to render it harmless.
There were plenty of prayers said, during services and individually. The effective prayers, it seems, were to help one another, for us to make the change on earth, not for supernatural cleansing. Prayers for wind to blow the algae far out into open water and for the bloom to die continue, as well as prayers for knowledge and guidance to understand dangers to drinking water. “I pray I don't get sick” doesn't seem to be the best petition when the water might be tainted.
A boatload of clergy could have gone out on Lake Erie and prayed for purity at Toledo's water crib, but I didn't see that happening. Preachers could have traveled door to door, making house calls to spiritually clean family plumbing and declare that users would only be ill if it was divine will, but that would be seen as a scam. We don't have a number of how many ministers are needed to convert all of Lake Erie into holy water that will only improve health, if that were to miraculously work.
Microcystin from algae didn't slip past our water treatment protections because we sinned, though a few people might call heavy use of chemicals to help our agriculture and to pollute the water we rely on sinful behavior.
Our societies have changed over the centuries in faith foundations. Once upon a time, people would rely on their holy leaders to pray away the harm but not understand that there are things we can do to assure the healthfulness of our surroundings. We know a little bit more about the world now —though there's so much that is still undiscovered. Science and religion are not opposites; they're very much intertwined. I think of something the Dalai Lama wrote: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” Pope Francis said, “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”
By doing right by our water, we do what is good and right by our fellow humans. Hans Jonas, a philosopher who concentrated on technology and ethics, put this in a religious and moral perspective. He wrote, “It was once religion which told us that we are all sinners, because of original sin. It is now the ecology of our planet which pronounces us all to be sinners because of the excessive exploits of human inventiveness. It was once religion which threatened us with a last judgment at the end of days. It is now our tortured planet which predicts the arrival of such a day without any heavenly intervention.”
We must rely on each other and all take care of our habitat. With Toledo's algae-bloom crisis affecting us, water might be bit more precious now. We can't take fresh water for granted. Consider how we can save the world by saving the water. It’s not just ecology; water is central to religious practice, too. Through science and spirit, we have to recognize that water, in a way, is the substance of our soul, in our bodies and over all the earth.