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'We Drink From Our Own Wells'

In 1984 the Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote a book spirituality from the perspective of the poor in Latin America – the book has become a classic and its title I have chosen for this month’s piece. ‘We drink from our own wells’ was a phrase I kept thinking about whilst on holiday in France. We were encamped on the banks of the Gironde, downstream of Bordeaux. The weather was hot and with the exception of one evening there was no rain. Now for someone on holiday who like the heat this was pretty good but signs were all around, if you were prepared to look, that this summer was not good for the locals. Irrigation of crops had been banned, car washing likewise. There might have been plenty of water in the tidal estuary but the reservoirs were low. In short, water was scarce. France is not in as bad a condition as some countries… yet. In Durban, SouthAfrica, households have been limited to 30 litres of water per person per day. That is 30 litres for everything – washing, cleaning, drinking, cooking, watering plants… France may not have put a limit on how much water can be used but the water pressure in the mains system has been reduced which makes having a shower at certain times of the day difficult.

We drink from our own wells. The well is a source of water and hence life but if we pollute the land then the water becomes contaminated and unfit to drink. Throughout history people have safeguarded the land to protect their water sources. Some of the public health laws in the Old Testament giveinstruction about avoiding contamination of water sources. The problem for today is not so much contaminated water as not enough water – the wells are dry. Demand for water is the highest it has ever been but changing weather patterns have made it harder to capture rain water – long dryperiods followed by flash floods for a day or two does little to restock the reservoirs.

Gutiérrez begins with the poor of Latin America and their struggle for life. He plots a spiritual journey through a wilderness where the need forspiritual water is as essential as finding water in a desert. Gutiérrez’s well is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the source of life and victory over death. This is the well to which he leads us and it is to this same well that we must come if we are to really make sense of what is happening in our world. If we have created for ourselves a wilderness where water is scarce then we need first and foremost to return to the source of life to help us examine how we live in the world God has given us.

Fr Philip


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