Guest Post: The Spirituality of Water


Beth Norcross
Founding Director of the Center for Spirituality in Nature

There’s something about water.

There’s something about the river, the sea, the pond, the lake — something that refreshes us, moves us, quiets us. 

In the forward to Wallace Nichols’s provocative book, Blue Mind, Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of the well-known ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, says: “We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.”

You could say that our ancestors experienced water ‘spirically.’ Water, spirit, life.
— Beth Norcross

I think there is something more going on, too. 

In every major religion, important rituals and sacred rites are held in and around water. The Hebrew Bible and New Testament have over 500 references to watery forms and themes. Often, water is a stand-in for the divine. 

Why do we so often seek watery places for spiritual experience? What is it about water? 

Well, we can start with the obvious. Our bodies are mostly water. For those of us who live in the DC environs, we are mostly Potomac River water. The river courses through us, nurturing and sustaining us. We are connected with it in the most visceral way. We are all Potomac Riverans.

Furthermore, water is essential to all life, for every plant and animal, including humans. We can go without food for a few weeks. Without water, we will die in a few days — even sooner in warm conditions. 

Our ancestors in faith — all faiths — appreciated the critical nature of water in ways that most of us now do not. The scarcity of this crucial substance was often a life-threatening reality. 

With this knowledge in mind, ancient peoples would then see this life-giving substance fall freely from the sky. They found depositories of it in flowing streams and rivers. They discovered pools of it under the ground as well. I think that they began to wonder: “What is providing this? Who is giving us this essential substance so that we can have life? Is there a god, or God, or Spirit in the water?” 

In these ancient times, there was little separation between the spiritual and the physical. You could say that our ancestors experienced water “spirically.” Water, Spirit, life.

Is it any wonder then that water provides sustenance — both physically and spiritually, “spirically” — to each and every one of us? Is it any wonder that we routinely seek out oceans and streams and lakes and, of course, rivers when we need to be calmed, connected, or healed, as Ms. Cousteau suggests? 
Each of us has a deep, rich connectedness with water. What would happen to our bodies and spirits if we were to more routinely “wade in the waters,” as that great old spiritual suggests?

Meet Beth and explore this and other important questions on a special Summer Solstice Sunset Stroll on Saturday, June 20.

Register today

Beth Norcross is the Founding Director of the Center for Spirituality in Nature which offers programs in and along the Potomac River designed to deepen spirituality and reconnect people with all of the creatures and critters that share this marvelous ecosystem with us. She is also adjunct faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and a chairperson with Interfaith Power and Light DMV.

Read Beth’s first guest post on water and spirituality, “Exploring our Sacred Ground,” and learn how the Potomac River unites our communities.

The photograph of the heron on the rocks was taken by Christopher James.

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