Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

September 7, 2008: “Reflections on the Waters – Homecoming”

Opening Words:
Welcome back! Ollie Ollie In Free! DO you remember those words from the children’s game of calling in those who have been hiding; it’s safe to come out now! SO, we call to those who have been away for the summer to come home, come home. We start our new church year, our new Sunday school year, and of course, a new school year and a new work year, thought that often just seems like the last one, doesn’t it! A new school year, a new grade, now that’s different each year, isn’t it? Or staring the first year – first grade, first year of middle school, high school, college, boy, that’s different! That’s scary! Just remember you’re never alone, especially now that there are cell phones! Remember your friends, your family, your teachers, and your church community, Remember your minister if you need someone to talk to!
We start this year with a new ritual that might become a tradition. In our churches, that means something that happens twice in a row! We will have water communion.

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. Whatever symbolizes the regathering of the community. (From Congregation Unitarian Universalist, Puerto Rico)

From shores of distant waters, from ocean, lakes and streams,
Returning, now we gather, bearing drops of summer dreams.
Let us greet each others’ stories, full of grateful celebration.
Minglining waters of our journeys, we renew this congregation.
Heather Lynn Hanson

So be with us now with open heart and  mind, with helping hands and singing voice. Let us be in the spirit of worship.

Chalice Lighting

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 (From Congregation Unitarian Universalist, Puerto Rico)
Water Communion

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. The History of the Water Service by Eliza Blanchard Church of the Larger Fellowship (adapted)

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 commitment 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.

Homecoming Homily
Reflections on the Waters
September 7, 2008
Rev. Arthur G. Severance

From Childrens Letters to God:
(Compiled by Stauart HAmple and Eric Marshall)

In Sunday School they told us what you do. Who does it when you are on vacation

Dear God,
I t rained foe are whole vacation and is my father mad! He said some things about you that people are not supposed to say, but I hope you will not hurt him in anyway.
your friend.
But I am not going to tell you who I am

Dear God,
Why is Sunday school on Sunday? I thought it was supposed to be our day of rest.
Tom L.
A student comes to the Guru and says that he or she wishes to become a teacher of the truth.
“Are you prepared,” asked the master, “to be ridiculed, ignored and starving until you are 45?”
“I am,” said the student. “But tell me: what will happen after I am forty-five?”
“You will have grown accustomed to it.”

 we return from our summer sojourning, as we celebrate our coming together in a homecoming (minus the football game and the election of a homecoming queen).

Yes for some of us, we are returning from summer sojourns; some have been regularly attending all summer, and some are relatively new, perhaps even first timers. Yet to all- friend, member, or even stranger,- we say, "Welcome home, Sojourner; welcome to this stop on your religious life journey. We hope you will be with us for a long time."

Annie Dillard puts it so beautifully, doesn’t she, when she writes in the chapter called “Sojourner”, in her wonderful book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, about those floating mangrove trees, where sometimes a one tree along the shore will break away and actually start floating like an island. Aren’t they a wonderful metaphor for our individualism, for our singular and lonely lives, especially as we have found this refuge from the storm,. this oasis of a church, this island of religious search which welcomes theological diversity?

“And the mangrove island wanders on,” she writes, “…afloat and adrift. It walks teetering and wanton before the wind. Its fate and direction are random. It may bob across an ocean and catch on another mainland’s shores. It may starve or dry while it is still a sapling. It may topple in a storm, or pitchpole.” And here comes the most important part… ‘By the rarest of chances, it may stave into another mangrove island in a crash of clacking roots, and mesh.”

That’s how many of us came to this church isn’t it? Some of us have just “staved in”, some of us are “crashing our clacking roots”, and some of us, thank God (pardon the expression), have “meshed.”

In one of the resources from headquarters in Boston is The Congregational Handbook, and in the section on church growth, Joan Goodwin reminds us that only 1 out of 10 of us was born into Unitarian Universalism; “…the other 9 have found UUism, often after long and frustrating years of alienation, rebellion, or emptiness. We know, most of us, what it meant to find a home at last in a UU church or fellowship. We must keep that awareness sharp in reaching out to others. We must be willing to share our stories, speak our convictions, and make a true commitment to the health, growth, and long life of the UU communities we love.”

It's good to be back. As many of you know, this hasn't been my favorite summer vacation. I did get away for a 12 day stay at the famous Lake, though, Lake County West hospital! The food was surprisingly good and the service was excellent, but the entertainment stunk! I was in for cellulitis with staph infection in my right leg which is now completely healed and I see my surgeon tomorrow and I hope can finally be declared so! I hope, therefore, that you all had better summers! I will reflect on summers gone by, because it is usually the waters of summer that have been my recharging in my life. Growing up in New Hampshire, my family had a summer cottage on Newfound Lake and lived the Lakes Region near Lake Winnepesaukee which is a native America name for Smile of the Great Spirit. Growing up, my summers were literally spent in the water! Swimming, boating, fishing, water skiing, sunbathing, - I couldn't imagine not living near water.
And perhaps like typical New Englanders, though we were regular church goers at the Congregational church during the other three seasons, we didn't go during the summer. We gave God off. Perhaps because we found our spirituality in nature, especially around the water! Maybe that's why according to studies. More than 90% of people on vacation choose the ocean, a lake, or some other body of water as their designation!  Maybe that's why we need a water communion!

Some summers ago while traveling back from Vermont, we returned to New Hampshire and passed close to the old Shaker village of Enfield, with a Catholic Shrine of Lafollette across the street which was the real tourist draw, especially around Xmas when they light the various stations of the Cross. We had explored the Shaker village of Canterbury, NH, near where I grew up in central New Hampshire, but I had never been to the smaller Enfield village. There were only a few buildings left from this 19th century religious community, and they were as usual beautiful and well made, but plain. Part of this area had been developed as a housing tract with supposed Shaker style houses, but not religiously related. I'm sure, to the celibate life style of the Shakers.  Another part had been turned into an inn and retreat center with a suspiciously sounding Catholic name. And finally there was a huge, beautiful, Romanesque cathedral on the grounds, again obviously non-Shaker. The Shakers, like their theological cousins, the Quakers, believed in simple unadorned meeting houses; there is no such thing as a Quaker or a Shaker Cathedral.
    (As an aside, you might like to know that the Quaker Oats breakfast foods have nothing to do with Quakers, but should properly be called Universalist Oats, since the founder was an active Universalist. who missed the adverting chance of a lifetime for Universalism.)
    We decided to explore the cathedral and found an order of service by a Methodist group who had just sponsored an organ recital about an hour before. The pipe organ was huge and we were sorry we had missed the chance of hearing music made holy by the playing and the listening in that space made holy by the presence of a worshipping community. Now empty except for us, it was more like a religious museum, an architectural wonder; we admired and pointed out the various religious symbols. It was not sacred space to us, but an alien place; we could intellectually understand that it was obvious sacred to someone, just not us.
     I noticed a beautiful and ornate oak confessional booth beside the entrance, and always interested in religious architecture and practices, I opened one of the two doors which I assumed the penitent would enter to confess to the priest in the center. The door I opened was now being used for a broom closet! I chuckled to myself, then persuaded Cathie to come look at the holiest of holies.  With the door closed, it looked like it might indeed have contained the Arc of the Covenant, almost scary that there might be power in there aroused by our looking upon it.         When she opened it, we both began to laugh at the incongruity of mops, brooms, and pails being stored in this space once made sacred by belief and practice. You see, there are many ways of being religious, and they evolve over time.

    One of our retired ministers, William Houff has written a wonderful book called, INFINITY IN YOUR HAND: A GUIDE FOR THE SPIRITUALLY CURIOUS, published by our denomination's, Skinner Press.  He writes about what we can see religiously and what we can't. "Some years ago." he writes,  "while reading one of Charles Darwin's journals, I was intrigued to learn that, when his ship, the "Beagle", first dropped anchor off Patagonia, the natives on shore could see the long boats as they were rowed to the beach but steadfastly denied being able to see the much larger mother ship. Apparently, the ship was simply too far beyond their reality framework to be acknowledged." Do you suppose we, too, have a reality beyond which we cannot see.?

At my parent’s house in New Hampshire, across the street from a park, we saw one of the brightest and clearest rainbows I have ever seen-the whole of the arc was visible with a double arc, not as bright, over it. It was a religious moment as the family, with my three girls quite young, were called out to see and experience the rainbow. After all, who sees something like that and doesn’t call everyone to see it. Who can see a rainbow and just think light refraction?

    It is a sign of the times, that it may only be on vacation that we allow ourselves unplanned time to enjoy, no more that simply enjoy, to be emotionally mover by. a beautiful view of mountain scenery or being awe of the lake or river or sea and its serenity. Only on vacation do we give ourselves the time to appreciate creation, only on vacation that we bring back water from our travels to share with this beloved religious community.

    For this water which we share has religious meaning that give, else we wouldn't have shared it. Many of us have sacred places where we go on vacation, special sacred places of water perhaps, where we may find ourselves transformed and at peace. We might not describe it that way, but it is amazing to me how many of our congregations have a water service similar to ours as an ingathering.

    So now we come out of the summer, bringing our holy water, coming together in a free and responsible search for truth, meaning, and the holy. We make the water holy by our awareness of the sacred, however we interpret that. So we make this space holy by our participation in our various forms of  expression of our liberal religious search. We do not have to believe alike to love alike, to worship together, to build a beloved church community together. We only have to agree to be pilgrims together, religious seekers sharing our paths with one another, challenged to grow and to share what we have found here with others who are desperately looking for what we have often kept a selfish secret.  Let us all share in the wonder of the universe, in the beauty of creation and the interdependent web of which we are a part.   Let us all bathe in the sacred waters of life. Let us all look on the sunny side and most importantly let us love one another and help make the world a better place. Let us find our way to live religiously.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapdted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con SU dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.

Closing Words
Rev. Kok-Heong McNaughton (Adapted)
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.

Like water flowing to the sea, we have return from the mountains and rivers and quiet places where we ran out sometime 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.