The Online Cambridge Dictionary defines the Verb “Honour” (US: Honor) as “To show great respect for someone or something, especially in public”.

It may sound odd to be asked to “honour water”. Why give respect directly to water? Water comes out of our taps at our bidding; we wash our clothes with it, and we even flush our toilets with it. We are often asked to conserve water, be mindful of its use and not waste it, is this the same as honouring water? Honour is usually reserved for human beings or their artefacts – perhaps the grandfather of a large family at the Christmas table, or a portrait of a generous donor in the library of a college. Honour is sometimes bound up with outer appearance – the public display, the ceremony. In its inner, quieter form, it can be connected with gratitude, of being thankful. In the dominant (Western) culture, this is usually focused on the human world, or on a deity that is the source of good fortune, abundance, or a narrow escape.

Perhaps we can feel gratitude to the engineers, planners and countless others who brought us the public water supply and sanitation, and gratitude for the positive leaps in public health engendered. We might feel gratitude if handed a glass of cold water on a hot day. In our prayers we might feel gratitude for our good fortune that we are not suffering the terrible droughts and water shortages across large parts of Southern Europe, Africa, and South and Central America. For those who have escaped these conditions, gratitude is given for the rain or escape from multiple hardships and land degradation that drought and water insecurity represent.

With the Met Office reporting in March the wettest 18-month period since 1836, in England, it might be hard not to greet warnings of our own future water insecurity with anything but scepticism. Gratitude – like life in our degraded rivers – is a challenge. Despite being “highly regulated” by three different statutorily created regulation bodies (OfWAT, EA, DWI), the private owners of the water companies are able to extract profit while leaving the public with the risk and the debt. Perhaps we take such warnings as evidence of the continued mismanagement by those tasked with the supply and waste. If those overseas private equity funds stopped extracting profit, we wouldn’t have such leaky pipes and so much sh*t in our rivers. I share your anger and grief. There are systemic issues with how water is treated; Water Sensitive Cambridge is actively working towards change at different scales.

When we visit holy wells and spring sources, we might feel reverence as indigenous people do, our indigenous ancestors once did. Perhaps we are relearning the old ways ourselves. When water is born of rock, from fissures in the chalk at Giant’s Graves, Nine Wells or Ashwell Springs, we witness the miracle of it. Perhaps it is not such a stretch to feel wonder, awe and reverence when water is viewed through a lens of Deep Time: the same water that now gushes from a tap was here when life emerged on Earth, around 3.8 billion years ago. It arrived on Earth from celestial bodies across an ever-expanding universe; perhaps the water is older than the Gaia herself. As in the “The Words That Come Before Else”, The Thanksgiving Address gifted to the world by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people, “the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to bring life to all of Creation” (Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass 2020). Through this lens, is water not worthy of honour, and are these not just the right words to express it?

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, providing us with strength, and nurturing life for all beings. Water is life. We know its power in many forms — waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans, snow and ice. We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to bring life to all of Creation. With one mind, we send our greetings and our thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

So we lead to a key motive behind the ‘Honour the Water’ event on Sunday, 26th May, with ceremonialist and author Isla Macleod. We want to know – If our relationship with water is re-enchanted, with reverence and gratitude – if we honour water – does this change how we use and care for water?

Let us find out.

Join ceremony designer Isla Macleod and Water Sensitive Cambridge on Sunday, May 26th, for an event to honour water. We look forward to seeing you there.

Photo copyright 2024 by Isla Macleod

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