Cleansing Waters

Cleansing Waters

May 28, 2018

Pentecost 2018


We often think of water as a cleansing agent.  Children are taught to wash their hands before eating.  Clothes are washed in water to clean them.  Tables and counters are often wiped down between usages.  And yet, water accounts for some of the world’s most deadly diseases.  To be sure, it is not only the water that causes these illnesses but the bacteria carried in the water, bacteria often from humans, that causes these water-borne illnesses.  The importance of clean water is of concern to every culture on the planet, including the industrialized nations who often have aging or out-of-date water filtration and distribution channels.


The Ancient Babylonia culture believed that once every twelve hundred years the gods became angry due to human overpopulation.  In an effort to control the number of people the planet could sustain, the gods were thought to send plagues and famine.  The deity known as Enlil offered advice to mankind to bribe the gods.  According to the Babylonian flood myth, Enlil finally, the third time, choses the human Atrahasis to live.  He instructed Atrahasis to build an ark to house his family, some cattle and wild birds.  The ark was tossed back and forth on the flood waters by the storm god Adad but, after seven days, the other gods relented.  Atrahasis made an offering to the gods and Enlil created barren women and stillborn babies to solve the overpopulation problem.

Enlil was also a deity in the Assyrian culture.  In the Assyrian myth, it is the man Utnapishtim who is warned of the impending flood by the deity Ea.  The boat built by Utnapishtim is described in great detail as being one acre in area with seven decks.  The boat was filled with the “seed of all living creatures’ as well as the family of Utnapishtim and the craftsmen who helped build his boat.  Legend has it the storm was so fierce that the gods themselves cried at the death and destruction it caused.  After six gays, the boat landed on the top of Nisur, a mountain.  Seven days later, Utnapishtim released first a dove and then a sparrow, both of which returned after finding no dry land upon which to land.  Finally, he released a raven which did not return.  Another sacrifice was made to the gods and Utnapishtim and his wife were given immortality.


It should be noted that the Chaldeans believed in another Babylonian flood myth, one that involved giants, two floods, and a mortal named Noa.   If that name sounds familiar, it should.  The Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have a similar flood myth as to those we have already discussed and there is a central figure known as Noah.


Why are there so many flood myths and why are they all so similar?  Is it a true testament to the belief that something often repeated must bear some degree of truth or is it simply that man and woman, regardless of the culture and age, are all remarkably similar?  Perhaps it is simply that water is what it is and there are very few ways to escape a raging flood. 


Most of these myths include one summit that remains dry.  One could claim that water eventually recedes so conceivably, the summit could have been flooded but then became dry land.  One could allow, as many of the myths do, for the changing of the minds of the deities who supposedly caused the flood waters.  A pure scientist might even launch into a discussion about the tides, gravity, etc. – all things which affect the water’s level, ebb, and flow.


In 2015 the following press release was made public:  “ARASOTA, Fla., Oct. 15, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — At any given time, almost half the population of the developing world suffers from waterborne diseases. About four billion cases of diarrhea disease occur each year, resulting in about one million deaths. An assessment by the United Nations reports that four out of 10 people in Africa and Asia do not have access to clean water. As a matter of fact, a report published in the medical journal The Lancet concluded that unsafe drinking water takes on a greater human toll than terrorism and war combined. Hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera are all caused by bacteria and are the most common diarrheal diseases. Other illnesses like dysentery are caused by parasites that live in water contaminated by animal or people feces.”


The press release speaks about a water bottle that contains a filtration system and floats.  It is the brainchild of a USA-based company that has been involved in water filtration systems for quite some time.  If people living in areas where their only water source is contaminated had access to such bottles, then many water-borne diseases like cholera could be reduced or greatly eliminated.  OF course, one would need access to the filters that fit inside the bottle and I saw nothing in the press release about the company sending them to undeveloped nations.


I do wonder just how clean the world was after these “cleansing floods”.  If you have ever lived in an area that was flooded, you know that clean is not how to describe the affected areas once the flood waters have receded.  As a child I loved swimming in rivers and lakes.  They also looked lovely and sparkled in the sunlight.  Wearing a white swimsuit, though, I quickly learned just how muddy the waters really were.


We fortunately have many warning systems and meteorological advancements to help advise us of impending floods.  What we often seemed flooded with in this modern, social media world, is a flood of opinions.  It seems that labeling something a “rant” gives one the right to be crude, rude, offensive – all those things the ancient deities hated about mankind and sought to cleanse with their floods.


As I write this, much of the south eastern United States is under a flood watch.  Parts of Maryland were deluged yesterday by floods.  Water can be the enemy as well as a necessity.  Tropical storm Alberto is approaching, reminding us that we must work together to survive life and nature.  


Maybe the thought for today is not about cleansing the world but ourselves.  In a time in which the world seems barren of compassion for those who are different than ourselves, maybe we need to make our anger stillborn.  What is a common theme amongst all these flood myths is that people worked together.  The arks in all these stories were not built by just one man but by a team.  Maybe the real key to avoiding a flood is to remember we are a team.  Life is, after all, a team effort.