A few years ago I was hired to help a church which had been in turbulence for 20 years. The previous three priests had arrived in good health but each one was later invalided out due to various forms of mental illness. Not surprisingly the whole church had entered into a kind of collective depression. This was a pattern the regional HQ did not want to see repeated. My job was to go in, find out what had been going wrong and fix it before the appointment of the next pastor.
When I had been there a couple of months I pieced together another layer of the story. I began counting the families in the congregation with children. I pieced together the disturbing and taboo information that around 88% of those families had at least one child suffering with major illnesses such as brain cancer, leukemia, anorexia etc. The children became ill after the families’ arrivals at the church. This figure did not include the families whose children had died.
Before I took on the assignment I spent some time in prayer to prepare myself for the journey. Each day as part of my personal pattern of life I read a portion of the Bible. Through what was coming up in my daily readings I sensed that in this assignment God was sending me “to make bitter waters sweet.” It was a phrase that emerged from various stories in the Old Testament. Though the stories in the Old Testament are about real physical water and real physical healing, in my own cultural programming I took the phrase “to make bitter waters sweet” as a metaphor for the community healing that my work would involve.
However on my arrival I learned that the suburb had an aboriginal name that means “waters” and that every street was named after a water course. The church building was, accordingly, full of images of water and rivers. I began to wonder if my divine instruction was meant more literally than I had first supposed.
After a while my wife and I noticed that a certain street, leading to the church, had a bad vibe about it. Then we noticed that someone had taken great efforts to paint a larger than life size image in the storm water drain running parallel to the street. The image was of a girl lying dead in the water with two black demons standing over her.
My wife, Ruth, and I did not sense that God was asking us to do anything specifically about the graffiti but was simply telling us to cleanse the waters. “If we cleanse the waters,” I said, “I have a hunch that the council will issue an order to erase the graffiti. I reckon that will be the sign that we have done what we need to.”
I did not know who to ask to help me with the cleansing. It was the first time I had ever been involved in water-healing. And it seemed a bit out there – even to me! I mentioned it to a young university student who, from previous assignments, I knew to be spiritually sensitive. I just mentioned vaguely that I was thinking of doing some prayer-walking around the water courses in the neighborhood. I didn’t say more than that because I didn’t want to sound crazy!
Immediately on hearing this my friend took out his iPad. “I have been doing that for a couple of weeks now,” he said. He then showed me the neighborhood from a God’s-eye-view – on Google Earth! He said, “Water enters the parish here, here and here. It all leaves at this point. If we go to those four locations we will have covered the entire suburb.” Clearly, I had asked the right guy!
So we did. Along with the parish priest of the adjacent Anglican church, we set out to visit the four key water points. To our surprise the municipal council had sent workers that very day to clear the water courses of the neighborhood of overgrowth and debris. It was just a funny coincidence that the council had picked the same day to give the water courses some attention.
So we did everything that I had seen modeled in my Bible reading. We prayed prayers of spiritual cleansing over the waters, dropped the consecrated bread and wine of Communion into the water. We also poured in some oil that had been prayed over and set aside for use in healing prayer. We repeated this at all four points. The work took a whole day.
That night the heavens opened and it rained and rained and rained. My home nearly flooded. It rained solidly for three days and three nights. All the water courses flooded. “This will wash what we have done through the whole parish,” I said!
The following week after the waters had subsided the council came out and removed the demonic graffiti. This was our sign that something had changed.
We watched and saw the impact on the faith community. Children were recovering and not getting ill. And the social life of the church healed beyond recognition. And in the time since the community and its new pastor have thrived together.
To my amazement there was a further proof that something to do with the water had changed. A man came to visit me. He said,
“Paul, I have been listening to your teaching. Your preaching has encouraged me to begin reading the Bible and praying again. Through what was coming up in my Bible-readings I somehow sensed that God was telling me to drink more water. So that is what I have been doing. I have been drinking our local tap water every day. And now something miraculous has happened. For 20 years I have suffered in my throat. It has given me a squeaky voice and left me unable to sing. After three weeks of drinking the tap water my throat has completely healed. For the first time in 20 years I can praise God with a song!!”
This was my first experience of the healing of waters. I have since learned that water that has been blessed, and set aside for healing purposes, has been used for centuries in the healing of places – right across the traditions of the Christian faith – and beyond.
These phenomena take us a little beyond what we understand through science and have models for. In the last 20 years Dr Masaru Emoto of Japan has studied the impact of the spiritual and emotional environment on water – and the impact of water on us. At a more fundamental level scientific evidence continues to mount, evidencing that the health of the water we drink is very important to our own physical health.
The above is a true story! It happened to me while I was serving as an Archdeacon in the Anglican Church in Australia. The healing of water and healing with water have since become a vital part of my practice.