Lent is a time for repentance. This is the time that we may stop our busy life and look deeply into ourselves. Do we live a life closer to God or sin? Do we live a "life in its fullness" which was given to us by Christ? Do we pay "the cost of discipleship" to live a Christian life? What does it mean for us to participate in the passion of Jesus in our own time? Are we waiting for the usual resurrection service on Easter Sunday without paying any attention to suffering people and creation all around us? In this time of introspection, I would like to reflect on suffering of, with, and due to water from a Salimist theological perspective. "Salim" is a Korean word for woman's everyday household work to make life possible, such as cooking, cleaning, nurturing, healing and growing food. The literal meaning of Salim is "making things alive." Many Korean women, both religious and secular, have taken this word as a metaphor for life-giving activities and movements in the midst of the cultural, political, economic power of death around us. Therefore, Salim movements have many manifestations. They may be ecological, peace, economic justice, anti-nuclear or unification movements. Or the term can refer to our inner spiritual search for regaining our lost true humanity and the intrinsic value of the whole creation. This Salim movement calls us to bring out the women's survival wisdom, the life-giving femininity in both men and women, and the long-forgotten Divine Feminine within us, between us and around us.
South Korea has achieved miraculous economic development during the last 60 years, after the brutal Korean War when most infra-structure in the country were destroyed. Now we have become 12th richest country in the world economically. But the shadow of this miraculous economic growth weighs heavily. South Korea has the highest suicide rate, divorce rate, and the lowest birth rate among OECD countries. Some Korean social scientists raise questions as to whether we have created a "Life-Denying Culture." In this shadow of darkness, we are searching for Light, the Life-giving power of God and the Salim power of people, and especially women's contribution to create sustainable culture for the whole creation. In this Lenten reflection, I would like to focus on our pilgrimage toward water justice.
In Christian tradition, "Sin" means "Missing the Mark." It means we are not aligned with the intention of God toward us and to the whole creation. What make us stray from the will of God and become disconnected from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday life? There are many reasons. In our context, I would like to highlight three main causes for sin. They are greed, ignorance and apathy.
Jesus taught us that we cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time. He challenged us, explaining that we had to make a choice between God and Mammon. The present form of Neo-liberal globalization shows us that we knowingly and unknowingly have chosen or been sucked into the power of Mammon rather than recognize the power of God. This form of destructive capitalism does not care about people's survival rights or the rights of Mother Earth. "Maximization of profit and economic efficiency by any means necessary" is the motto of Neo-liberal globalization. It is the economic system based on greed rather than the common good. For the satisfaction of the greed of the few, this system destroys the lives of a majority of people and the fragile eco-system of the Earth. Transnational agricultural business and meat production make up the number one cause of polluting and drying out water around the world, more than any other cause in today's world. The privatization of water resources, drying out ground water in the production of bottled water, and industrial and agricultural pollution, of water have left 20 % of the world’s population suffering from scarcity of drinking water in their own communities. If we have had and still have so many unnecessary wars over oil in these last few decades, it is predicted that we will soon have "Water wars" contesting the precious sources of water. Water is a free gift of God for all creation. It should be a global common for all creation, rather than a commodity for the few atop the economic Tower of Babel. The former president of South Korea, Lee Myoung Bak, forced through "the Great Four River Project" against many people's opposition, changing the natural courses of rivers, creating dams and making unnecessary canals for economic gain. We witness already clear signs of the destruction of rivers and eco-systems due to this greedy project. It will cost more money now to mend the situation than all the expenditures in the construction of this big river project. This case shows us how greed has motivated the destruction of earth water sources and the fragile eco-system in my country. I have witnessed similar situations in many other parts of the world.
Our ignorance of the crisis of water in today's world and our unconscious participation in escalating the crisis cause us to commit the sin of destroying God's precious gift for the whole creation as well as ourselves. Many of us live in a country where we can just turn on the water faucet to have access to water easily, and so we forget the fact that many people in this world have no access even to drinking water, due to the scarcity of clean water thanks to industrial pollution, privatization or climate change. By consuming bottled water, buying transnational agricultural products which are cheaper than our local products, or being frequent meat eaters, having wasteful life style, we participate in the global water crisis without consciously knowing it. Or we may not want to know. Life is hard enough in this economic system. Shopping is therapy for tired and lonely souls; eating meat can be a pleasure. Jesus taught us that "The truth makes you free!" But we know too well now that we cannot cope with too much truth. Truth often makes our lives inconvenient and unbearable. Many of us do not want to know the truth because truth makes us suffer. Therefore, we turned against God and choose destructive life styles which have brought much pain to the entire creation.
Our ignorance or sense of helplessness against the massive presence of power and principalities of the world often makes us feel depressed or cause us to despair. Psychological pain, lack of moral courage or simple exhaustion from struggling for survival lead us into a life of apathy. The way we let Jesus crucified by the power and principality of the world, namely power of domination and oppression by the Roman Empire and local political and religious power elites with our silence and non-action to change the situation still continues today. Our individual and collective apathy keeps acting to crucify our poor neighbours as well as Mother Earth. Not taking up our "Response-Ability" to mend the global water crisis is our abiding sin against fellow human beings, nature and God. Saying and doing nothing in the face of global water injustice is a passive form of sin that we are committing in our everyday life.
We believe in God who created the whole creation. Our God is a loving God. Out of God's longing for relationship, the whole creation came to exist. We can show our love for God by loving our neighbours and Mother Earth. This is the gospel message: Justice is another name for Love. In Salimist theology and spirituality, recovering a "right relationship" among all creations means establishing restorative justice in our everyday life and in our own concrete economic, political and social system. Salim, making things alive, is not possible without challenging and changing many forms of Life-denying power. Seeing our greed as it is, acknowledging our ignorance, waking up from our apathy and saying and doing something to restore justice are true and authentic forms of repentance. In this time of Lent, we are urged to accompany the suffering Jesus by participating in justice, founding it firmly within us, between us and around us. God sent Jesus, the "Living Water", to give us "Life in its fullness." This fullness of Life is possible in our midst by letting "Justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." In this time of repentance, let us pay attention to the suffering of water resources, and people’s suffering because of water around the world, by participating in local and global movements for restoring water justice.
Thoughts for reflection
1. What are the main causes of water crisis, locally and globally?
2. What are the spiritual and theological significance of water in your faith community?
Questions for discussion
1. What are our roles in local and global water crisis?
2. How can we change our way of living to restore water-justice?
Ideas for action
1. What kinds of social movements do you have to address the water-justice in your community? Please find out more about these activities, and participate in one of these movements.
2. How do the different faith communities in your context respond to local and global water crisis? Please join ecumenical or interfaith solidarity actions and work together.
3. What are the political parties and who are the politicians in your country who promises campaigns for restoring water-justice? Please organize a people's movement to encourage people to vote for politicians with positive policies on water.
4. Let us become conscious consumers who support ecologically ethical companies.
* Prof. Chung Hyun Kyung, a Korean Theologian teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in the USA.