As Unitarian Universalists we acknowledge the interdependence of life on this planet, and seek a healthy, respectful relationship with water. Our ecological sensibility is in harmony with other, ancient traditions, from India to the First Nations on this continent. The links below show us people dedicated to transforming our attitude towards water. We must re-learn that water, so necessary to life, has inherent value and is sacred.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a renowned scholar and environmental activist, here she speaks about the Hindu relationship to the sacred Ganges river.
In the video at the link below, Cree Elders in Alberta are seeking healthier relationships with water and all peoples.
Water: Sacred Relationship
In Peterborough, Ontario, indigenous and non-indigenous people are working together to care for water.
Sacred Water Circle
With easy access to water through our municipal water systems, tidied away in faucets and pipes, drains and culverts, we take it for granted. Today I invite you to reflect on the restorative powers of water.
At Blackwater Pond
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
This short video by artist Maik Thomas offers a visual meditation on a quiet pond. Sit down, breathe deeply and take a break beside the water.
Water is life. We are water. If we accept the ecological connections between ourselves and water, what does that mean for how we experience and use water in our daily lives? Here in North America, we don’t treat water particularly well, offering gifts of plastic which create a giant ocean garbage patch to gifts of polluting chemicals, as well as the careless and wasteful use of fresh water. Hope lies in communities which are working to re-imagine our inter-actions with water.
Environmental magazine Orion has an extensive article exploring new approaches to city water infrastructure, including more details about the project explored in the video. Writer Cynthia Barnett also narrates the slideshow highlighting a Seattle neighbourhood’s water project which is also an ecological art piece.
In honour of the beautiful mystery of water – and the mystery of living – this poem comes from American poet William Stafford:
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
We are celebrating our Water Ceremony this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. This annual in-gathering ritual begins our community year using the symbol of water. People bring water from their summer experiences and pour it into our communal bowl, honouring the community which brings us together, reminding us of our shared connections. Every day this week, I’ll post poems, stories and videos about the value and beauty of water.
While his description of humans as “blobs of water” is not poetic (!), David Suzuki in his book The Legacy of Nature reminds us of our deep ecological dependence on water.
“A visitor from another galaxy would surely call our planet Water, not Earth. Seventy-one per cent of the planet’s surface is covered by oceans. If the globe were a perfectly smooth sphere, water would cover it to a depth of 2.7 kilometres. The air is filled with water vapour that condenses as clouds. Above the great Amazon rainforest, trees pull water from the ground and transpire it upward, where it flows in great rivers of vapour toward the Andes.
Every person in the world is at least 60 per cent water by weight. We are basically blobs of water with enough organic thickener mixed in to prevent us from dribbling away on the floor. The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, and rain ensures that water cartwheels around the planet. We are part of the hydrologic process. Every drink we take has water molecules that evaporated from the canopies of every forest in the world, from all the oceans and plains.” (pg.76)
We are water.
This past Sunday was the Water Ingathering Ceremony, or water communion, for most Unitarian congregations in Canada. Unitarian Universalists don’t have many rituals and I cherish the times when our services go beyond words to being. The water ingathering, with people bringing water from their backyards and their trips around the world, is a welcoming way to begin the congregational year. Each person pours their small cup of water into the great bowl of our common life so that it brims to overflowing with all the gifts we bring. I love that fluid and flowing sense of return, of beginning again together in community. I think of the folksong which points out that the ocean refuses no river, that we try to accept all people who seek to join our chalice community. The offerings of everyone come together to create the whole; the whole that we depend on for sustenance.
The water ceremony is a relatively recent tradition, evolving from a ritual created by Carolyn McDade and Lucile Shuck Longview for the 1980 Women and Religion Conference in East Lansing, Michigan. They wanted their service to speak to the worship needs of women, which some felt had not been widely included in UU life. They wanted to focus on a sense of nature and of community. This “celebration of connectedness,” as McDade called it, was intended to empower women instead of offering the traditional religious notion that women should serve others. The water symbolized the birth waters, the cycles of moon, tides and women, and all the waters of this small blue planet. Since 1980, the water communion, with evolving meaning, has become the fall welcoming ritual and spread across most North American congregations. Most keep some water back from the ritual – well boiled – and use it to begin next year’s ritual.
Given that we Unitarians like to talk, I love the rituals that allow us to move, share and simply be together in moments that are beyond words. This past Sunday I got to be at my home congregation for the first time in a few years, to share in the water ingathering. Lively music, beautiful images, seeing old friends, it was good to be welcomed home. I’ve had the image of a canoe in my head these last couple of weeks, as I paddle towards the final step in my ministry journey (the interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston). It’s good to know that even in stormy times, there is a safe harbour nearby.