Text: Amos 5,24:
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Peace is like water: as long as both are present, we don’t often think about how valuable these things are and how our life depends on them.
In central Europe we have lived for decades with the belief that water is abundantly available to us, and that the menacing water shortages and conflicts over water in other countries do not affect us. And then the climate crisis came, followed by many summers of drought with devastating wildfires and crop failures. They made it clear to us: we too can no longer close our eyes, we too will suffer the consequences of climate change and for us too, it is high time to deal with it.
We’ve looked on in shock as other countries raged with wars and thought ourselves safe and sound in the peace of Europe that, in any case for most of the continent, has held on since the second world war. And now we’ve been jolted awake by the war in Ukraine. We are appalled by the images of fleeing women and children, we hear about shortages of foodstuffs and water, lack of medicine. Suddenly, we’ve been made to grapple very practically with our dedication to pacifism and the delivery of arms, to asylum and solidarity. We feel that war is always a horrible injustice, the burden of which is always borne most of all by the weak, and we feel such great helplessness, because we can’t simply end it.
It's more and more clear to us: we all need peace, the same way we need water to live. We need righteousness, globally, in the resolution of conflicts, in the distribution of water and other resources necessary for life. We are all connected with one another like water in the life cycles of our planet, and the seemingly distant problems of others can come to affect us tomorrow.
The prophet Amos connects these two things: water and righteousness. Justice should flow like water and God’s righteousness like a never-ending stream, he writes. Strong words for someone from the Judaean desert. To be sure, he was quite familiar with the problem of water shortage and knew well the preciousness of water. He chooses utopian antonyms to the reality of his society, in which the upper class lived at the expense of the poor. Utopian antonyms with which he champions that all humans should be able to enjoy the Earth’s bounty and the proceeds of their work in peace. Words that powerfully oppose any arid hopelessness and helplessness.
These words about the water of justice, which should overflow continually like a flood over the Earth, connect me to people of other religions which also know of the reverence of water and the desire for peace for all people: with Muslims, for whom all water is a gift from God, with Buddhists, who teach the veneration of nature, with Jews, who gave me the words of Amos.
“It is God’s will that there should be no war” - thus spoke the clear message of the first full assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948, and the message has lost none of its validity. The words of Amos can give us strength, that we can be a part of that, that peace and justice can prevail. Whether we join ourselves with the flowing water of a global peace movement or the ever-flowing stream of examining our own lifestyle habits: we are many - and many little droplets can turn to an ocean of peaceful change.
1. The Passiontide is traditionally a time in which to think about the priorities in your life. Consider: what do you have, in possessions, friends, family, that you sometimes take for granted, and how can you appreciate them more?
2. In the holy texts of most religions, we often find statements on the theme of water as well as peace. Find out what your religious community has to say on the topic and how they take action.
1. In order to act against climate change, it’s not only important to save water at home, but also to pay attention to the water consumption in the production of things that we buy. Check your water footprint, e.g. at https://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/personal-calculator-extended/
2. Engage yourself for peace, e.g. by joining the next peace demonstration. Or envisage your personal goal for peace: with whom would you like to reconcile? What sort of behaviour can you increase for more peace in your day-to-day?
*Susanne Öhlmann is an ordained Pastor of the EKBO (Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg-Schlesische Oberlausitz [The Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia]). Currently, she lives with her family in Gaborone, Botswana.