By Rev. Carol Bodeau
This week, we celebrate our annual Water Communion. This is a ceremony in which we honoring what UU’s refer to “ingathering”—that time when we all gather back together after the presumed travels, adventures and out-goings of the summer season. The Water Communion originated at a UU women’s conference in the 1980s, and has spread to become one of the most important rituals of our larger Unitarian Universalist community.
In the Water Communion, we symbolically ‘gather’ by pouring water representing our individual journeys into one collective container. Like streams that flow to the ocean, our collective energy, resources, love and intention combine into a force more powerful than we can create alone. This year, we are focusing on something I’ve never seen described in all my years of Water Communions: the containers, the channels, that hold the water itself.
The choir has been working for a few weeks on the song “Make Channels for Streams of Love” which describes how important the actual channel, or vessel, or container is when one is pouring out or trying to hold onto the water of love. Symbolically, the image of the water gets a lot of attention; usually, we don’t put much thought into the containers that hold it.
I was recently in Michigan for a few weeks. This place, my home state and the place of the Great Lakes as well as many thousand smaller lakes and rivers, is extremely important to me. The waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior are absolutely central to my own understanding of myself. Currently, the shorelines of the lakes are eroding at a rapid rate. Friends with cabins on the shores are having to go to great lengths and expense to ensure that their homes and property are not washed into the water. They are thinking, quite urgently, about the ‘containers’ of the rock and sand that hold the water they love.
How often do you think about streambeds? About lake bottoms, or coral reefs? How much attention do we pay to silt created by agriculture, which clogs up once crystalline waterways? Or accelerated erosion caused by human interactions with the natural world?
Riverbeds, lakeshores, glaciers…these are all containers for water, which is essential to all of life. Recent hurricanes and the flooding they have brought remind us that water is a powerful force. When it breaks the bounds of its normal ‘channels,’ life is disrupted in profound ways.
As we reflect on care for the literal containers that hold our lakes, our rivers, and our seas, let us also understand that we must care for the symbolic containers of our lives. If water can be seen to represent human love or human power, then the ‘containers’ of that power are our bodies, our relationships, and our communities. The buildings we create and the institutions we inhabit must be appropriate and worthy containers to hold and flow the gifts and resources we have to share.
When it rains, let us be grateful for the ground that absorbs the drops. When it snows, let us be grateful for the crystals, holding the water in a form that catches and magnifies light. When we eat food, let us give thanks for the systems that bring water to the fields. And when we have tears, let us be grateful for the bodies that allow us to feel. And let us build and tend containers that can channel our deepest love into the world.
May it be so.