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Water: Symbol, Element, Utility III

June 25, 2009

My earliest connections with faith involve water.

I’m told that my baptism as an unknowing baby was marked by controversy. The priest initially refused because the name my parents wanted to give me recalled neither a saint nor a family member. But the deed was done, at the insistance of my strong-willed Irish mother, and the water that washed me and marked me was poured over my infant head.

The other water memory is of the stone vessel which held the holy water. Its rims were worm smooth by countless generations of the faithful who only gained entry to worship by dipping a forefinger in the cool water and tracing the sign of the cross over head and torso. Sometimes if I remember hard enough, I can still recall the cooling feel of the water touched to my forehead.

I remember too watching at close quarters the priest as he prepared the elements for consecration. Only bread and wine, ignorant of the transformation that awaited them. As too were the parishioners who walked for us. They came up the middle aisle bearing gifts that would soon feed a multitude while we sat in our pews and watched.

The wine was measured into the chalise, and with the smallest ladle imaginable, a mere spot of water was taken from the cruet, and dropped into the cup. The rich red liquid is adulterated by this tiny fullstop of water. What was it? Was it our sins absorbed in his blood? Was it his humanity mixed irretrievably with his divinity.
Who knows? But when the cup was drained and the bread consumed it became for us blood and body.

POEM
Water by Philip Larkin
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

Water I
Water II

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