Laudato si, mi Signore, per sor'Acqua, la quale è multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Water is, or should be, high on everyone's agenda, as it may soon become very scarce in some parts of the world. Climate change means that prolonged drought is often broken by torrential rain and flash floods, which, far from relieving the drought, wash away precious topsoil and the seeds that lie dormant in it.
But in this post I want to talk about water from St Francis' point of view and from the point of view of the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11).
St Francis' adjectives are telling: useful, humble, precious and pure. Water is useful: life cannot exist without it. It is humble: its ubiquity in some parts of the world tend to make the inhabitants take water for granted. It is precious: water may be ubiquitous in some areas, but potable water is another question altogether. In the ancient world and in the Middle Ages, it was often dangerous to drink water: water was made into 'small' beer, or mixed with a little wine to make it drinkable. Water is casta: chaste. The word is really untranslatable: it can also mean austere, severe, stark, simple, sober, virgin, innocent. As so often in medieval—and biblical—literature, all meanings are meant.
I would like to introduce yet another nuance: it is indicative of the soul, and, in certain circumstances, the soul infused by the Holy Spirit. The Bible and other religious texts are full of images of springs of water, fountains, rain, dew used in this sense; and in an arid environment, the falling of rain can even induce a kind of inebriation, another term used for the Spirit-filled person. It is this last sense of inebriation that brings to mind the story of the Wedding at Cana.
It is no accident that the jars that Jesus instructs the steward to fill usually contain water for washing, the most humble sort of water, fine for this purpose, but not for drinking. Though it may not be drinkable, this water retains something of its 'innocence', if you like; it can be made pure. But Jesus makes it more than pure: he makes it into wine, and not just any old wine, but the best wine.
It's hardly necessary to labour the point: that as water flows through the filter of the Word it is purified and filled with the Spirit. It is still liquid, it is still water, but it is infused water, and it is made for rejoicing at the marriage of heaven and earth.