Water communion, and the interconnectedness of all living beings

Story for water communion service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto:

Each year we do this water communion service. When we share our water in the common bowl, it symbolizes that while we are separate people, we are also part of an interdependent community.

You probably know about the water cycle. When it rains, water falls from clouds onto the ground, and eventually it flows into a river, and all rivers flow down to the ocean. Water evaporates from the ocean and forms clouds, the clouds drift over the land, it rains, and the cycle begins again. You’re in the middle of this cycle because you drink about 2 liters of water every day, and then you sweat or urinate and put water back into the water cycle. So water is constantly on the move.

You probably know that water is made up of molecules, and that each water molecule is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. Water molecules are incredibly tiny, so tiny you cannot see them. If you had 18 grams of water, or a little more than half an ounce, that would be about 6 x 10^23 molecules. The molecular weight of water is approximately 18, and therefore 18 grams of water should have a number of molecules equal to Avogadro’s number, or 6.02 x 10^23.

This is a fairly large number:
602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules —
which is the same as 6.02 x 10^23 molecules, or we can also say 602 sextillion molecules.

If you’re a child who weighs about 77 pounds, or 35 kilograms, then you have about 20 liters of water in your body (adults, you can multiply up to figure it out for yourselves). That’s approximately 20,000 grams of water, or 6.02 x 10^26, or 602 septillion, molecules of water in your body if you’re a child. And if you drink 2 liters of water a day, you’re replacing about ten percent of that, or 6 x 10^25 molecules, each day. So if you are 3,650 days old (that’s ten years old), about 2.2 x 10^28 water molecules have already passed through your body. And here’s what that number looks like:

22,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules have passed through your body in ten years.

Because water is constantly cycling around, and because every human being has such large numbers of molecules of water cycling through them, there’s a very good chance that each one of us has at least a few molecules of water that were formerly in the body of Socrates, the great philosopher. We each probably have some molecules of water that were once in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and of the Buddha, and any number of great and wise people who lived in the past.

Thus when we say that we are all interconnected, that statement is quite literally true — we are all interconnected through the water cycle, not only with each other, but with all living beings past and present. Jesus, Confucius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eliza Tupper Wilkes who was the first Unitarian minister in Palo Alto — you might be literally connected with each of these good and wise people.

Tip of the hat to Steve Hersey for saying something much like this in the Watertown, Mass., UU congregation many years ago.

2 thoughts on “Water communion, and the interconnectedness of all living beings

  1. Tracey Hurd

    I have attended so many Water Communion Sundays and this is such an outstanding approach. I would encourage you to submit that to Erik Wikstrom for the UUA Worship Web. It is such a lovely piece, if you are willing, it would be great to have it even more widely available. Sincerely, tracey

  2. Dan

    Tracey Hurd @ 1 — Thanks, glad you liked it! Please note that other UUs have come up with the same basic approach — after the worship service yesterday, someone in the congregation here in Palo Alto said he had heard same basic approach at another UU congregation (sorry, don’t remember which one).

    Another Palo Altan suggested that I should have taken Avogadro’s number to another decimal place, i.e., 6.023 x 10^23. This actually makes sense for anyone who chooses to use this in their congregation, since 6.023 is more widely recognized. I rounded to two significant decimal places out of long habit; I started taking science seriously in junior high school, which was still in the days of slide rules; ever since then I have dropped everything after the second decimal place, except for numbers less than 2 (this will make sense to you if you’ve ever used a slide rule).

Comments are closed.