Saturday, September 07, 2013

Beginning Anew

I'm excited about tomorrow's Water Ceremony/Homecoming Service, for it was at this time of the year, 21 years ago, that I felt the call to ministry, during a Homecoming service at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado.  Here's the ceremony and the homily.

Sept. 8, 2013
Rev. Kit Ketcham


         Today, all across Unitarian Universalism, congregations like ours---from large urban churches to tiny groups meeting in members’ homes---choose to begin their new church year together by performing a Water Ceremony.
         This ceremony was first introduced at a UU worship service in the 1980’s as a way to celebrate the Ingathering, the Homecoming, of members and friends after a summer of vacation activities and other changes in people’s schedules which can make it hard to get to Sunday services.  This  time of sharing is, I think, unique to Unitarian Universalist congregations.
         Before we begin, I’d like to explain how we are going to do our water ceremony this year, because we’ll be doing it a little differently than we have in the past.  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.  Right now, before we begin, I ask you to think about what your bit of water means as you pour it into our common vessel.  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 then, during the procession of the waters, to bring your water and your card to the altar table where the waters will be gathered. 
         Please pour your water into the vase and place the card with your words on it in the basket 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 others’ 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, Cameron and I 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.
         After our service, I plan  to take the waters of this community home with me, boil the heck out of, purify it with my water purifier, and store it until we need it again.  We may use it in a child dedication ceremony later this year, we may bless the memory of a member who has died, we may bless some other important event during the year.  And I will bring a portion of this water back next fall, so that this year’s insights and experiences are melded with future insights and experiences, all for the spiritual growth of this beloved community.
         So now, let’s take a few minutes to finish writing our water thoughts on the card and then we’ll begin, starting with the front rows.  I’ll ask Cameron to help guide that process.
            Over the past year, as I’ve gotten to know you all better, both as a member of the congregation and as your minister in residence, I’ve felt welcomed and appreciated.  I’ve appreciated you all in return, as I’ve seen you reach out to new folks, rally around when folks are struggling, eagerly show up for coffee or pizza or a cool drink at one of the new happy hours or coffee klatches.
         I’ve also noticed that there is a yearning among us for a bit more of a sense of community.  That yearning has shown up in some of the comments folks have made to me over the past few months.  It’s shown up in the strong attendance at the Astoria happy hour, in the smiles on the faces of the Washington contingent over coffee and lemon bars at the Olde Towne coffee shop in Ilwaco, in the remarks made by some of those who attended our Memories of Michael time last Sunday.
         You’ve been hungry for a minister and…..I’ve been hungry too, because once you’re called to the ministry, you can’t just drop it.  I had to find a place to serve.  So together, we are starting a new phase in the life of the Pacific UU Fellowship.  I am excited about it and I hope you are too.
         I’d like to tell you a story which comes from the Sufi tradition.  You may know already that Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam.  This is a story about a stream and a desert.  We know about streams around here; we may not be so familiar with deserts, but this story, I hope, will illustrate an important point.
         High on a far off mountain, a little stream flowed out of a hidden source. As the water flowed down the mountain, it passed through all kinds of places, rocky ravines, quiet meadows, past beaver dams and through lakes and ponds.
Sometimes the little stream leaped and danced and bubbled as it raced down a canyon or sometimes it drifted lazily through a forest meadow or even disappeared underground for a short distance. It had never encountered an obstacle that it couldn't surmount, either by leaping over it or going under it or around it or wearing away the rock that captured it.
But one day it reached the edge of a vast desert. "Hey, no problem," said the little stream to itself. "I've never been stopped by any obstacle before. No desert is going to stop me now!"
So the stream flung itself at the desert. And its waters disappeared, absorbed by the sand. It threw itself at the hot desert sand again and again. And every time, its waters disappeared.
"This can't be," said the stream. "If the wind can cross the desert, certainly I, a stream, can cross it too!" And it continued to fling itself at the hot sand. And every time, its waters disappeared.        
"But it is my destiny to cross the desert," cried the stream, in despair. And as it rested dejectedly at the edge of the desert, getting its strength back, and wondering what to do next, it heard a small, still, whispery voice. And this is what the stream heard the desert say.
"You can't cross the desert using your old ways," said the desert. "I am not like a boulder or a tree or a rocky ledge. It is no use hurling yourself at the desert like that. You will never cross the sand this way; you will simply disappear or turn into marshland."
"But how I can get across?" cried the stream. "I don't know any new ways; I only know the old ways. The wind can get across the desert. Why can't I?"
"The wind is your new way," said the desert. "You must let the wind carry you across the hot sands."
"How can that be?" asked the stream. "How can the wind carry me?"
"You must let yourself be absorbed into the wind," said the desert. "The wind will catch you up in that way and carry you across the desert."
"No!" cried the stream. "I am a stream with a nature and an identity all my own. I don't want to lose myself by being absorbed into the wind."
"But that's what the wind does," said the desert. "The wind will catch you up and carry you across the desert and set you down again very lightly so you can become a stream again. Trust me and trust the wind."
"But I might not be the same stream on the other side of the desert, if I've been absorbed by the wind and carried a long way. I won't be myself if I let the wind carry me and set me down again in a new place."
The desert understood the stream's fear but it also understood the mystery.
"You're right," said the desert. "But you won't be the same stream, no matter what. If you stay here, you will turn into a marshland and that's not a stream either. If you let the wind carry you across the desert, the real you, the real heart of you, the essence of everything you truly are, will arise again on the other side to flow in a new course, to be a river that you can't even imagine from where you are standing now."
"How can this happen?" asked the stream, mystified by this new idea.
"The wind has always done this," said the desert. "It takes up the water and carries it over the desert and then lets it fall again. The water falls as rain and it becomes a river, joined by waters from all over the world which have crossed the deserts to come together."
"But can't I just stay the same?" asked the stream.
"You cannot in any way remain the same," whispered the desert. "Movement is your very nature. It will never cease until your true destination has been reached."
As the stream considered this, it began to remember where it had come from and it had a memory deep in its heart of a wind that could be trusted and a horizon that was always out of reach but always a new beginning.
So the stream took a deep breath and surrendered itself to the power of the wind and the wind took the vapor of the stream in strong and loving arms and took it high above the desert, far beyond the horizon, and let it fall again softly in a new place.
And the stream began to understand who it really was and what it meant to be a stream. And over the years, it allowed the wind to take it again and again until at last it found itself in the ocean, from which all life comes and to which all life returns.
(Story adapted many times from the original.)
         Why might I tell you this story, on this first day of our year together?  It’s because our working together to create what Martin Luther King Jr. has called the Beloved Community will mean some changes---some comfortable, some experimental, some that may require some adjustment.
         But as the desert said to the stream, “you cannot in any way remain the same…”  We all will change during our time together as minister and congregation.  Like the stream which trusts the wind to carry it, we trust the good intentions and the positive relationships within the fellowship to carry us  beyond where we have been.
         We have much love between us to build upon, as we create Beloved Community here in our area.  Many congregations include in each service a reminder of that love and commitment, an oral calling of ourselves to be our best together.
         Many of them use these words, which I find deeply meaningful and hope that you will too:
         “Love is the spirit of this congregation and service is its practice.  This is our great covenant, to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”
         We will explore gradually the unwritten covenant that brings us together as we create a community that is peaceful, loving, and reaching out to help each other as well as the larger community.  Where will the winds of love carry us?
         Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
HYMN #1064, “Blue Boat Home”
         As Cameron extinguishes our chalice, I close with these words:
         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 to trust the winds of change, for they have brought us together.  May we welcome always the challenges of our new life and approach them in our common human spirit of love and commitment.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

1 comment:

Mohit Sharma "Trendster" said...

Wow! Great to see a person starting a new chapter in life with such enthusiasm & in a planned manner. My Best Wishes! :)