On Christmas Eve, 1968, the spacecraft called Apollo 8 sent the first-ever image of our planet back to us: the first earthrise viewed by humanity. The astronauts on board Apollo 8 could have chosen to say anything in that moment of breathless wonder. What they did, instead, was read this aloud:
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters. God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light 'day', and darkness he called 'night'. Evening came and morning came: the first day. God said, 'Let there be a vault through the middle of the waters to divide the waters in two.' And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters under the vault from the waters above the vault. God called the vault 'heaven'. Evening came and morning came: the second day. God said, 'Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.' And so it was. God called the dry land 'earth' and the mass of waters 'seas', and God saw that it was good.
That’s not insignificant. A television presenter at the time noted that even people “of no faith tradition” were struck by the appropriateness and power of the words. Seeing what we looked like for the first time drew minds and hearts to the Creator who had formed this perfect, beautiful, fragile bubble, no matter whether they acknowledged a belief in that Creator or not.
In some ways, our seeing that first earthrise was like someone who had lived their life alone in a desert or a jungle suddenly looking in a mirror. We saw for the first time what we looked like.
And what we looked like was water.
That first earthrise showed us the color of our planet: most of it, we saw for the first time, is the blue of the oceans. God did indeed see how very good the water was, and he gave it to us in abundance. He filled oceans and lakes and streams; he created our own bodies to be largely composed of water; and he created us to need water in order to live. So important is water in both a physical and a theological sense that it is used constantly in Scripture to describe our need for God: he will pour water on a thirsty land; he is the living water; those who believe in him shall not thirst.
Science tells us that we can only survive for three days without water. We need it, not just to be healthy, but to stay alive. We share that need with nearly every living being on the planet. God designed it that way, and he saw that it was good.
Humans are odd creatures. We’ve been given everything: life, a place to live, people to love, a promise of final salvation; and we take it all completely for granted. Someone arriving here from an alien world would probably scratch their head in bewilderment. We tend to treasure things like material goods, passing entertainment, and political power; and we throw everything else away. Worse, we often keep others from having access to the same things we do. We live on a planet of water and yet on that same planet, water has become a commodity rather than a right. And many people in the developed world don’t even know that there is a water crisis.
Not something, perhaps, that God would recognize as “good.”
The United Nations recognizes the importance of addressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22, and offers these sobering statistics:
- 844 million people lack basic drinking water access, more than one of every 10 people on the planet.
- Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours hauling water every day.
- The average woman in rural Africa walks 6 kilometers every day to haul 40 pounds of water.
- Every day, more than 800 children under age 5 die from diarrhea attributed to poor water and sanitation.
- 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation.
- 90 percent of all natural disasters are water-related.
“I was thirsty, and you gave me drink,” says Jesus. “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
On this World Water Day, let’s give Jesus something to drink.
There are many ways you can help.
You can donate to Catholic Relief Services’ water program.
Explore the work of water.org. For more than 25 years, they've made it their mission to bring water and sanitation to the world. They have empowered more than 17 million people with access to safe water and sanitation, and the website presents easy solutions you can be a part of. The founders of water.org believe that every human being deserves to define their own future, and water makes that possible. Access to safe water has the power to turn time spent into time saved, when it's close and not hours away. Access to safe water can turn problems into potential: unlocking education, economic prosperity, and improved health.
Tell people about the crisis; educate yourself and your family.
And pray! Pray that we all might share in this most precious of gifts God gave us… one that he himself declared was “good.”