Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Water Ceremony

Our Water Ceremony today was a wonderful experience. It's always a chaotic day, with joy and sorrow and confusion intertwined, and today was the best of everything. We broke our attendance record for a worship service, with 108 souls, and celebrated afterwards with our traditional salmon bake. Here is the text of the introduction to the ceremony and the homily I didn't need. You'll see why if you read it.

Sept. 12, 2010

Good morning! I’m delighted to see you all here today. I’d like to explain how we are going to do our water ceremony this year, for the benefit of those to whom it is a new experience and to help others remember how this works. For those of you who are visiting, we are delighted to see you and welcome you into this experience. You are invited to take full part in this ceremony.

When you found your seat, you also found a 3x5 card on that seat. During the early part of the service, I ask you to think about what the water means which you will pour into our receptacle. Does it represent an important insight or experience? Does it commemorate a beloved person who may have died? Does it express a joy that has come to you?

Whatever that meaning might be, I ask you to write it down on the card and later, during the procession of the waters, to bring your water and your card to the altar table where the pooled waters will be gathered. Please pour a small amount of your water into the amber vase and place the card with your words on it in one of the baskets by the vase; then return to your seat. We’ll process in rows, as tidily as possible, but as it may get kind of busy up here, I just ask that you watch out for little feet and hands and take turns as best you can! And if you forgot to bring water, there is a carafe of water here on the altar that you can use to represent your watery experience.

Just before the homily, two readers will read the cards aloud without names attached, so that we all can hear the insights and experiences that your water represents. In this way, we symbolically pool the life experiences of all of us gathered here today and enrich our community with those experiences.

In this container, I have the pooled waters from last year’s water ceremony and I am going to add some of them to the amber vase to begin our ceremony. After this service, the waters will be purified and will be used in our annual child dedication ceremony as well as on other occasions such as house blessings or memorial services.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Sept. 12, 2010

I invite you to sit in silence for a few moments while Sara and Frank read the cards which describe the experiences that are represented by these waters we’ve joined together. Let’s reflect during that silence upon the commonalities of our human lives and also the richness that all these experiences bring to our life together as a faith community.

[Note: About 80 cards were read aloud and at the end of this recitation of the many important experiences that the water represented, there was nothing more for me to say. I wish I could publish the messages on the cards, for they were so poignant and meaningful. So I delivered only the last two paragraphs of this homily, but you're getting the whole thing!)

This past summer has been many things to us: times of joy and recreation in beautiful places, times of sorrow and worry over beloved friends and family members who are struggling, personal determination to change our lives in some way, realization of our mortality and that of our loved ones, and especially, love flowing between us and our fellow humans, love of all kinds----giddy romantic love, the deep love of committed partners, love for children and animals, love of this beautiful place, love for sacred ideals and causes, love for faithful friends and companions on the road, and the love that blooms when people are united in a mission to serve others.

These are the waters of our lives; they are bubbling with joy and play and ecstasy and fulfillment. They run serene with contentment and the sense of life well lived. And yet an inevitable undercurrent of sorrow and loss may flow beneath even the calmest or most exuberant of waters.

Water is everywhere in our lives. New human life is born in a gush of waters; new rivers spring from tiny clefts in the rock; glaciers release water stored for centuries to trickle down couloirs and into creeks, then rivers, then the sea. Underground aquifers receive thirstily the water which percolates down from rainstorms and snow melt to bring new water to wells and springs.

Water seems always to be going somewhere, active, whether bouncing through rapids or ocean swells and tides or serenely flowing through meadowy meanders and welling up behind beaver dams. Its undercurrents require of us a certain caution, a recognition of danger, a possibility of pain and loss. And then water moves from lakes and streams and oceans and even puddles back up through the air to become clouds again and start its cycle all over.

One of the things I’ve experienced lately is the importance of water in the act of cleansing. Many of you know I recently had a cataract removed---just last Wed., as a matter of fact---and I had to wash and wash and wash in preparation for the surgery: wash my hands before putting drops in my eye; wash again and again and again at every step of the process. After the surgery, keeping my face clean was essential, lest infection take hold.

Every person who worked with me during the hours I was at Whidbey General washed their hands before any contact with me. And during the surgery itself, my eye was flooded with sterile water as the doctor carefully extracted the old lens and implanted the new one.

The reminder we give our children about washing their hands is one we have heard from our own parents and other adults. Washing, cleansing, purifying---these are all roles water has in our daily lives.

We bathe, both for cleanliness sake and to relax. We launder our clothing, our bedding, our table linens, all in the act of cleanliness but also in the act of refreshing limp and tired items. We scrub our floors and our kitchen and bathroom surfaces till they shine.

There’s a lot of hype about anti-bacterial substances that supposedly will eliminate evil germs and protect us from disease, but the truth is that just plain clean water with a little soap will do the same thing.

Water has been used for religious purposes for centuries and we use it that way too. We gather these waters every fall to commemorate the ways our lives have changed during the past year and to share those changes with our religious community. Water is the basic stuff of life, and, like community, we have to have it, we need it for our very survival.

We use these gathered waters then to dedicate ourselves to our newest children every year, welcoming them into the community with a touch of the water on their skin, to symbolically share our lives with theirs.

All over the United States and even abroad today Unitarian Universalists are bringing the waters of their lives to pool in a common vessel, signifying our unity as a congregation and beginning the new year together in this ceremony of communion.

In some congregations I’ve known, the water ceremony can become just a travelogue of people bragging about the cool places they’ve been. Our practice is to share the important experiences of the past months, the times that have been spiritually important to us, the times of learning something valuable, the times spent with dear ones, the times spent remembering and cherishing the love in our lives.

We bring all these experiences today, to pool in this container, and to begin our new year together with the recognition that we are somewhat different, as individuals and as a congregation, than we were a few months ago.

Some of us have had deep hurts, some of us have lost members of our family. Some of us have had incredible joy, joy that continues and enriches our lives. Some of us have had important insights about our own selves, about others, about the nature of life.

So we bring our water and ourselves to this place today, depending on each other for support and love as we begin this year together.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

Benediction: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that our lives affect one another, for our experiences shape us and thereby shape our relationships. May we remember this and share ourselves and our lives in ways that enhance our time together, for this is how we heal ourselves and each other and knit up the rips and tears in the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

1 comment:

Earthbound Spirit said...

How lovely, I wish I could have been there!