The Miracle of Water
By Michelle Francl-Donnay
I lived too long at the edge of the desert not to be in awe of water. Even now, forty years later, a scant handful of cool water drawn from the kitchen faucet and splashed on my face never fails to astound me. It seems a miracle, like the water from the rocks at Meribah.
That handful of water is a portal that opens into the vastness of God. Each time I pour a glass or dip my hands into a bowl of water, I contemplate anew the almost inconceivable depths I can hold in my hand. A few ounces of water contain ten times as many molecules as there are stars in the known universe. A million million million times a million atoms of hydrogen and oxygen can dance on the palm of my hand. I get a glimpse of the universe as it was a fraction of a second after creation, when everything that was, that is, and that would be could be contained in a tea cup—or cupped between Christ’s hands. And I remember a lavish mercy that I still cannot grasp when we thrice scooped up a newborn universe’s measure of water and baptized my sons.
To gaze at water is to contemplate not only the vastness of God but also to peer into the depths of time to catch sight of eternity out of the corner of my eye. The hydrogen atoms in the water molecules careening around in the glass on my desk are nearly as old as the universe itself. They were created 13.82 billion years ago, a second after the Big Bang. They were old when the sun was born, ancient when stardust gradually settled into orbits around that sun and gathered itself into the earth and the moon. The Spirit of God hovered over these very atoms and created the heavens and the earth and all that dwell upon them. Take and drink of what was prepared for us from the beginning.
We wash the dishes and our children’s faces in water. We wash each other's feet with it and pull it from our wells to offer to the thirsty. But we also sign ourselves with water when we enter sacred space. We baptize in water and the Spirit and mingle water with the wine in the chalice of salvation. Water reminds me of how often the extraordinary comes cloaked in the ordinary and the infinite is veiled in the finite. It reminds me that once time was pierced through and God came to earth, the infinite incarnate in the finite.
As unimaginable as it is to cup a universe of water molecules between my hands, I am staggered by the thought that I can hold the very Body of Christ in my hands, cradle the Word that when spoken brought the universe into being. I look into a vast pool of mercy, cupped in my hands. Living water, come down from heaven.
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Michelle Francl-Donnay is a professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College and an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory.
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