written by: Ken Homan, S.J., Fordham University ’14
“What are you giving up for Lent?” We have all heard it plenty. There are many regular answers, such as sweets, Facebook, meat and television. Fasting has its roots in the earliest forms of Christianity. As Christianity became more integrated into society, martyrdom decreased. Christians sought new ways of showing their devotion, which often came in the form of fasting and asceticism. In the Middle Ages, fasting became an integral part of Lenten preparations for Easter.
In our modern Western Lent, we frequently give up those things we do not need. However, Jesus commends the poor widow for giving her two small coins—“For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:44). Perhaps this Lent we should look past cookies and television to something of our need. Lent also invites us to focus outwardly, to serve Christ and our neighbors. It is a time to reflect on the preparations of Christ’s passion.
Given these facets of Lent, I encourage you to try a Lenten Water Fast. Not the kind where you attempt to consume just bread and water during Lent. Cut down your water use. Water is a vital and rapidly dwindling resource in our world. Whereas many of us have the ability to turn a knob and enjoy potable water, much of the world still suffers from inadequate and unsafe access. ‘”With almost 884 million people living without access to safe drinking-water and approximately three times that number lacking basic sanitation we must act now as one global community to ensure water and sanitation for all,” said Ms. Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNICEF Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (World Health Organization 2010).’ As noted by Water.org, 3.4 million people die from water-related illness every year. That’s about the population of Los Angeles.
The problem is not just international. Here in the United States, we are rapidly depleting our aquifers with unsustainable agricultural and industrial practices. Take hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for instance, which uses up to 100,000 gallons of fresh water to drill each new well. The USGS notes that the Ogallala Aquifer has decreased by over 100 feet since the introduction of modern, water-intensive farming practices. Or look to our dangerous use of bottled water, which is less-regulated than tap water and uses 17 million barrels of oil annually (Food and Water Watch). And with worldwide desertification, the words of Ash Wednesday “From dust you are and to dust you shall return” ring ever more true.
So what exactly would a Lenten Water Fast look like? There are three major components—learning, changing our own lifestyle, and activism.
Education: Take time to learn some of the facts about water in our world. How do we use it? How do we waste it? How can we preserve it? What agricultural and industrial processes threaten our water? Who has access? How much do we pay for this human right?
Lifestyle: Look for those things in your life that our water-intensive. Can you shorten your showers? Stop watering the lawn? Shave less? Use reusable water bottles? Eat less meat?
Activism: Encourage change in your community. Ask your college, high school or city to ban bottled water and provide access to water fountains. Fight for clean, water-sensitive energy. Take a stand against climate change. Participate in clean-up efforts, like Steam Team. Educate those around you.
This Lent, stand in solidarity with those who have less access to water and pay far more than we often do. Make changes in your lifestyle and community so future generations may enjoy this most essential human right. Serve your communities and the global community. Myself? I’ll be taking 5-minute showers and fighting against fracking here in New York.
Check out these resources and webpages to find out more and see what you can do: