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What's water got to do with it?

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Sara E. Leeland, PhD - Spirituality of Water Presentation

Sara E. Leeland, PhD - Spirituality of Water Presentation

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L to R: Sisters Mary Navarre, Ann Porter and Alice Wittenbach examine the BioSand Water Filter.

L to R: Sisters Mary Navarre, Ann Porter and Alice Wittenbach examine the BioSand Water Filter.

On Tuesday, September 14, environmental philosopher Sara E. Leeland, PhD spoke to a packed house about the spirituality of water. Dr. Leeland is a West Michigan environmentalist who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan with a deep love of water—how it sustains us physically and renews us spiritually.  She shared her philosophy on the connectedness that people experience, especially when near large bodies of water.

The Water Spirituality presentation was co-sponsored by OLLI of Aquinas and the Care of Earth Committee of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids. Admission was free, but because of the generosity of the many people in attendance, $260 will be donated for the purchase of BioSand Water Filters for people in undeveloped areas. 

BioSand water filters are light-weight systems that can be installed in homes and provide enough clean water for an average family of 8-10 persons in developing countries with enough safe water for drinking, cooking and washing needs. The water is filtered by making its way down through a diffuser and biological layer that consumes pathogens, then down through layers of sand and gravel. The manufacturer claims that the filter removes up to 99.8% of deadly parasites, which are a leading cause of illness in undeveloped countries.

All major world religions, in their spiritual writings, use water metaphorically as a symbol of cleansing and renewal. Leland’s message that humans have a spiritual, emotional and physical connectedness with water was woven throughout the presentation.  She reminded the audience that each human has a necessary responsibility to become passionate about what is happening environmentally and urges each individual to take an active part in cleaning up the pollution that has become a global environmental disaster. 

The audience was presented with the problems of pollution and global warming along with ways in which each person can help heal the planet. In becoming aware of the problems, we need to choose our own specific passion and live it---alone, with others or within the structure of an organized environmental or faith group.  There are many ways to begin the process of repair, but with much damage it will take much time.  Dr. Leeland notes that we did not suddenly get to this place. It took many years and it will take many more to heal the wounds.

Two major issues highlighted during the presentation were the accumulation of huge quantities of water pollution from human littering as well as raw sewage spills into Lake Michigan during heavy rainfall. She also spoke of the gulf oil spill that began spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, which soiled miles of coastline, endangered the ecosystem and continues to threaten the livelihood of many hundreds of fishing industries.  The surface area affected is equivalent in size to that of Lakes Michigan and Huron together.

Over the years, Leeland has taken a personal inventory of her own use of natural resources and she does many things to cut energy. She limits herself to the use of one tank of gasoline per month, turns the thermostat down in winter and uses air conditioning only when the temperature goes above 88 in her home. She suggests people carpool when possible, travel by train instead of air, and use LED lighting in the home.

Dr. Leeland says, “To bring water itself into our spiritual life, we need to ask the questions: 'What is water?' and 'How can we develop a deeper relationship with the waters of this planet'.  From that perspective, we people of the Great Lakes have a deep responsibility.  Our Great Lakes contain 95% of the surface fresh water in the U.S., and 20% of that water worldwide.  We are called to protect these waters, not only for the Great Lakes region, but as a planetary gift from our Creator. Sara E. Leeland, PhD can be contacted at [email protected]

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