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Congregation Unitarian Universalist

Importance of Sharing the Water of Life

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    I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.

-William Butler Yeats


    Prelude:    Water Music   by George Fredrich Handel

    Opening Words:

      All life comes from water. Life started in the ocean, where it began to take its many and amazing forms. Babies are cradled in water before they are born. Everything that lives needs water, from the smallest plants to the largest whale. From the beginning of history, humans have built their homes and their lives around water. Today we celebrate water, which connects and nourishes all life. The beginning of the church year for our congregations is called homecoming. Some congregations include the Water Communion ritual in this service. This ritual involves members and friends who have brought small amounts of water to the service, taken from special places they have been over the summer. The water might be collected from a rainstorm or is significant or symbolic in some way. They can pour the water into a large bowl and tell the congregation where it is from and the meaning it has for them. Other congregations bring into the sanctuary items of significance to their own history. The chalice, a banner or wall hanging, the covenant, hymnal, a Religious Education Book, or crayons, even a coffee urn. What ever symbolizes the regathering of the community.

    Lighting the Chalice:

      Each of us comes to this sacred space today to dip into the well that nourishes our hungry spirits. Each of us comes with our own cup of goodness to pour into the well. The chalice is a vessel, a bowl, a cup. We drink together.

      With this light, we place in this vessel, we also place our common hopes, our shared dreams, our mutual commitment to a world made whole. May we be strengthened in our bonds of love and peace

    Meditation: Blending Our Waters

      We bring our waters, which have touched the west, the north, the south and the east, which come from the sky, the surface of the earth and from deep wells and springs within the earth.

      We bring water that belonged to lakes, streams, and reservoirs of fresh waters that quench our thirst.

      We bring water that is a part of the great oceans and the seas that circle the globe, teeming with life, the source of all life.

      We bring water to this place of meeting and sharing.

      In this water there is new water, formed in the atmosphere daily, there is old water, water as old as the earth, water from which life has evolved over the eons.

      This is the stream of life from which all life flows.

      All people are connected by this stream, for it runs through our veins and courses through the stems and leaves of plants.

      It is the symbol of the cleansing power of forgiveness and the faithful promise of healing love.

      It is the symbol and the reality of the oneness that unites humankind and all life.

      Today we bring water

      To give back to the earth,

      To mingle with all the waters of the earth, And join all living things.

      Today we pour water

      To honor the earth that gives us life,

      To honor the community of all life, Plants, animals and people.

      Today we offer thanks for the gift of water and also for the web of life we all share, near or far

      May our separate waters join into one sacred stream as we add our lives into the stream of living souls who live out love, work for justice and hunger for peace.

    Hymn: (#100 in Singing the Living Tradition)   "I've Got Peace Like River" Sing the first three (water) verses

      I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river,
        I've got peace like a river in my soul.
          I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river,
            I've got peace like a river in my soul.
      I've got joy like a fountain.…
      I've got love like an ocean.…

    Story for All Ages: Water by Rev. Lynn Ungar (the children go to Religious Education at the end of the story and the adults sing "Spirit of Life" )

      Every drop of water that we bring to our ceremony today has been on amazing adventures. Our water, this very water, has witnessed the birth of life as well as the death of dinosaurs, has been a part of the body of Buddha, Bach, Jesus, Michael Jordan, and the Queen of England. Each tiny molecule of water has been on its own unique journey, but today I need your help in telling the story of all water, and it sounds much better with some water sounds. I am going to ask you make some water sounds. We can create the rain storm by rubbing fingertips together, then snapping fingers or clapping lightly, then clapping harder, up to drumming hands on thighs or stomping feet. As the rain passes we will get quieter.

      Most of our planet is covered by oceans, the cradle of life and water's true home. What does an ocean sound like?

      Now, you can't hear it, but all of the time, every day, the sun shines on the ocean, and water evaporates; it rises into the air to become clouds. If we listened very carefully, with our tiniest inside ears, what sound do you think we would hear as the earth breathes water up into clouds?

      But eventually, the clouds fill up, and the water comes down again as rain. Imagine standing on a mountain, and it begins, very gently, to drizzle, then to rain, then to pour in a full-scale mountain thunderstorm! Then, slowly, the storm moves on, the rain gets gentler, and slows, and eventually stops.

      The water that falls in the mountains runs into little downhill trickles. What might that sound like? These little trickles gather into babbling brooks and streams.

      The streams continue on their downward course, eventually

      joining into rushing rivers.

      As the quick rivers join into great rivers they become broader and slower.

      And eventually, all water returns to the sea, the cradle of life, and water's true home.

    Hymn:   # 123  (STLT)   "Spirit of Life"   by Carolyn McDade (adapted)

      Spirit of Life, come unto us,
        Sing in our hearts all the stirrings of compassion.
          Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
            Move in our hands, giving life the shape of justice.
              Roots hold us close; wings set us free;
                Spirit of Life, come to us, come to me.

    First Reading: The History of the Water Service by Eliza Blanchard Church of the Larger Fellowship ( adapted)

      This month many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations celebrate the opening of the church year at a service called variously "Ingathering," "Water Service," or "Water Communion." People generally bring a small container of water collected from a special place during the summer's travels or closer to home. Pouring it into a common vessel, they share their inner or outer journeys.

      The idea of a Unitarian Universalist ritual may feel strange to some of us. We have Unitarian Universalist theological roots that rest in the rejection of established ritual and of the authorities who controlled both the content of these rituals and the participation in them. For example the ritual of the chalice of communion wine which was a privilige reserved for men who had been ordained as priests. For many people, however, rituals are concrete and meaningful expressions of joy and sorrow.. As Unitarian Universalists we are free to create rituals and to celebrate life passages in ways we feel express our values and our faith. The Water Service provides one way to celebrate the return to community after a summer's pause.

      Water is the key ingredient of this service, and many people think about a special spot from which they can collect their water. Planning ahead is helpful. I recommend you store the water in the freezer to keep microbes from developing. Water gathered from a visit to the house of grandparents or grandchildren, relatives or friends will carry special meanings and memories for some. Others enjoy gathering water from a stream, ocean or lake. The backyard kiddie pool, the garden hose that watered favorite flowers, or the kitchen sink can also provide memories. Camping, picnicks, the trip of a lifetime, or an ordinary vacation are often sources of connection that we want to remember.

      This service originated with angry women. Carolyn McDade and Lucile Shuck Longview were asked to create a ritual for the Women and Religion Conference at East Lansing, Michigan, in 1980; their service was intended to speak to the worship needs of women, which some felt had not been widely included in our movement up to that point. As McDade, social activist and songwriter, recalls, "It was a strong service, about community taking power…about creating a political and liberating theology."

      McDade and Longview both shared a vision of justice as well as committment to the environment that made working together easy. At Lucile's home, they spent many rewarding hours brainstorming and writing the service. Everything they produced held up nature and community. McDade believes that this ritual "broke the long silence of laywomen. The creation of a sacred space for and by women happened with a circle and a simple bowl."

      This "celebration of connectedness," as McDade calls it, empowered women instead of calling them to serve others. The water symbolized the birth waters, the cycles of moon, tides and women, and all the waters of this small blue planet. Each woman attending the conference was invited to bring a container of water with her. McDade recalls that "It was very moving, the women bringing water from places of spiritual importance." This ceremony was also designed to demonstrate solidarity with women globally, as women the world over traditionally draw and carry water.

      Almost thirty years after its creation, the water ritual speaks to a deepening awareness of our solidarity with brothers and sisters globally who lack the most basic and precious resources. It also speaks eloquently of our interdependent web of life.

      While many UU congregations celebrate a water service in which each person or family pours their water into a common bowl, the water doesn't need to be collected in a single vessel to serve as a way to connect with others. Water poured on the ground or at the base of a special tree or plant enters the water table, a huge and interconnected underground water system which does the mingling for us.

    Sharing of the Waters: Water Ritual:

      Each person pours the water they've collected into the common bowl , naming the place from which it came. then name the place where the water will be poured out, such as a special plant, memorial garden, or cemetery.

    Second Reading Be Like Water by Kendra Ford, Minister, First Unitarian Society of Exeter, New Hampshire

      run deep run clear
        fill any space to its own dimensions
          respond to the moon, to gravity
            change colors with the light
              hold your temperature longer than the surrounding air
                take the coast by storm
                  go under ground
                    bend light
                      be the one thing people need, even when they're fasting
                        eat boulders,
                          quietly be a universal solvent

    Hymn:STLT # 108 , My Life Flows On in Endless Song

      My life flows on in endless song
        Above earth's lamentation.
          I hear the real though far-off hymn
            That hails a new creation.
      Through all the tumult and the strife
        I hear the music ringing.
          It sounds an echo in my soul.
            How can I keep from singing!
      What though the tempest 'round me roars,
        I know the truth, it liveth.
          What though the darkness 'round me close,
            Songs in the night it giveth.
      No storm can shake my inmost calm
        While to that rock I'm clinging.
          Since love prevails in heav'n and earth,
            How can I keep from singing!

    Discussion Themes

      Themes often used in homecoming include: reunion; re-gathering; re-covenanting as a community of faith.

      Many of us have returned from visits to friends, family and new or interesting places. Summer often allows us the time to explore new ideas as well as new places.

      Like water flowing to the sea, we return from the mountains and rivers and quiet places where we ran out some of the sands of time of our lives.

      After months without meeting, returning to this place, what does "homecoming" mean to you in the context of the church community?

      What are you most looking forward to for the coming church year? Joining together, we comprise this sea of continuity, filled with myriad currents carrying along our spiritual and emotional journeys in a cycle of change: ocean, mist, rain, trickle, stream, river, ocean, that keeps us alive and changing.

      What about the nature of water as a resource? What can we do to conserve water, to keep from wasting water?

      Reflection questions on Water

        How are you disconnected, naive, complacent, or ambivalent about the human right to water?

        . How does your heart respond to the statistic that every 15 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease?

        . Imagine a time when you have been inconvenienced by lack of access to water. Imagine that you live like that everyday. Imagine that as your future. What happens to your dignity? Your spirit? Your basic survival?

        How can you change your use of water and thereby participate in daily acts of water justice?

      Extinguishing the Chalice

        I am but a drop of water.
          Alone, I would disappear,
            Dried up by the scorching sun
              Or sucked up by the dry, thirsty earth.
                But together we can wear out stones,
                  Carve out the Grand Canyon,
                    Make streams and rivers,
                      And find our way to the sea.

                      Rev. Kok-Heong McNaughton (Adapted)

      Like water flowing to the sea, we have return from the mountains and rivers and quiet places where we ran out some time of our days in recent months, returning to this place. Joining together, we comprise this sea of continuity, filled with myriad currents carrying along our spiritual and emotional journeys in a cycle of change: ocean, mist, rain, trickle, stream, river, ocean, that keeps us alive and changing. Deeply regard each other. Truly listen to each other. Speak what each of you must speak. Be ready in any moment to disarm your own heart, and always live as if a realm of love had begun. Go now in peace. So be it. Blessed be. Amen.

      Closing Prayer:

        Teach us the wisdom of water, that life will have its falls, sometimes like a mountain stream tumbling over round stones, sometimes like threads of rain spun from clouds, sometimes in breath-taking cascades.

        Teach us the wisdom of water, that each fall is finite, each ends in contact with earth. May we remember that we in this community are as earth to each other. We cushion each other's falls, lessening the impact, supporting one another through hard times. We are the ground of blessed community.

        Teach us the wisdom of water, that we will rise again from each fall, sometimes like mist breathed from neighborhoods trees, sometimes like a geyser shouting from the earth, sometimes as imperceptibly as evaporation from the sea.

      *Hymn:    Go now in Peace     

        Go now in Peace, Go now in Peace,
          May the Love of God surround you
            Everywhere, everywhere, You may go