The story goes that back in the 1970s at a conference in London, a UK politician was congratulating Sheikh Yamani on Saudi good fortune in finding so much wealth under the sand. He responded by pointing out of the window “but it is nothing compared to your wealth in having this precious substance fall from the sky.”
It’s odd stuff, water. It cleanses and revives. It looms large in Scripture because of its life-giving properties: reviving the drooping spirit, dropping fatness on the earth to soften it, making the desert landscape bloom with colour, maybe only once a year. It’s the life that flows from good teaching, the visions that issue from the prophets when the Lord communicates through them, enabling them see what others do not. Water heals—the water of life flowing from the Holy of Holies through the street of the heavenly city.
Now, cast your mind back a few years to the floods in Boscastle and Cockermouth, to the tsunamis, or recently to the south coast floods. Water is heavy. It’s extraordinarily destructive. It can kill. Drink too much and it’ll be curtains.
We moan about too little. We moan about too much. We waste it in ways that horrify people from places where it’s too precious to waste. I’m told on excellent authority that much of the tea we consume comes from tea plantations irrigated by water diverted from nearby towns. People who have so little go without water so that we can feel smug about buying their tea. How long before there’s war over water: mass migrations, global conflict? Maybe it’s already begun.
For seven years of my life, I had a three-quarter mile walk from the bus stop in King Street, Penrith, to school. It rained every day (or so it seems now), and this ten-year old discovered that it took 20 seconds to get soaked, but once soaked, he couldn’t get any wetter, so there was no point bothering. Furthermore, the ten-year old observed that he soon dried out. Though mothers believe that cold and flu are caused by getting wet, I cling to the peculiar view that these illnesses have something to do with viruses and bacteria.
Celebrating water with well dressings is not just a Derbyshire tradition. Have you heard of the water festival on 16 August each year in Villagarcia de Arousa, northwest Spain, where it also rains a lot? After the church service, the tradition is for people to drench each other: 30 tons of water were used last year, delivered by hydrants, hoses and buckets.
Wouldn’t it be a wheeze to do this in Burton? I try my best with Holy Water in church, but a hose would add a new dimension.