Reading – “Praise the Rain,” by Joy harjo
Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
We are going to do a bit of time travelling this morning. Back to the year 1975, this was the year that Lucile Shuck Longview had a huge AHA moment. Does anyone know this name? Lucile Shuck Longview?
She lived in Lexington and belonged to the UU Church there–just 15 minutes from here. And in the year of her AHA moment–1975–this was a time in history where women, all over the country, were engaged in the Women’s Liberation Movement. A movement that had been alive for several years, since the 60’s. This movement, in the 60’s and 70’s, was what we now call the second wave of feminism. For there had been an earlier wave in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
And, just for a moment, I want you to consider the word ‘wave.’ It’s such a great descriptor for this movement. For any justice centered movement really. Waves are wondrous. They start as small ripples, not unlike our rainstorm earlier, far beyond sight or thought, and slowly grow and swell, right? Until, WOW! We can all see and feel their force–no ignoring it now–as they crash down making a wonderful PTCHHHHH sound–and they churn up sand and push critters and treasures from down at the bottom up to the surface, and then pours over our feet and toes. They have changed shape now, and a kind of quiet descends for a moment. And then, what do they do? Recede, return to the sea, the great ebb, but for a brief moment you see things at the bottom of the ocean floor that you couldn’t see before. And the shore, the ocean floor, all the living things in that big ocean, they are changed by every ebb and flow, by every wave. Waves might seem like the same spin cycle going around and around, but they aren’t. One need only look to rock that becomes sand, or glass that becomes sea glass to know that something is changing, breaking down, taking NEW shape, every time a wave comes rolling in.
Yes, waves are such great descriptors for justice-centered movements. Beautiful.
But let’s get back to our dear Lucile in Lexington. Lucile’s AHA moment in 1975 during the second wave of feminism, was about our faith, Unitarian Universalism. At the time, our principles were not what they are today. Nearly every one of our seven principles, now we have adopted an 8th, back in 1975, used the word “man” or “brotherhood” to represent all people: “Love of man,” “a world community founded on the ideals of brotherhood,” “to encourage cooperation with men of good will in every land.” The same was true for our hymnal at the time, which had sections titled “Man,” “Love and Human Brotherhood” or the “Arts of Man.”
And these were simply texts of their time–we know that their intent was not to pointedly leave out women or denigrate those who weren’t male-identified. This was simply a representation of the time. ‘Men’ meant everyone. ‘Mankind’ meant everyone. But change was in the air in the 60’s and 70’s, people were starting to wake up to language like this, wake up to a lot of things, and question them. We are still waking up to things, right? And this is, in part, thanks to people like Lucile. In 1975, she knew that if we were going to be a faith that centered Love of all people and identities as the spirit of our church and movement, this language and thinking, needed to be challenged. Long story short, it was Lucile that brought a written resolution to our General Assembly just two years later, in 1977, which passed unanimously and put in place a system of accountability and action that led to the creation and adoption of seven new principles, the ones we now affirm to promote and live by, as well as new hymnals. The ones you have in your hands today, Singing the Living Tradition.
Why am I sharing all of this with you today?
Because if it weren’t for Lucile there would not be a bowl sitting in front of our altar, waiting for your water. Nor would you have gone to the trouble of collecting water and bringing it here today. This service would not be called a Water Communion Service, nor would we be readying ourselves for a ritual that hundreds and hundreds of other UU congregations are partaking in on this same welcoming-in-a-new-church-year morning. None of this would be so.
The first Water Communion service was conceived by…any guesses? Yep, Lucile Shuck Longview and a few other formidable UU women in our faith.
They created the Water Communion Worship Service in 1980 and called it “Coming Home, Like Rivers to the Sea.” It was a service that did what hadn’t been done before: celebrated the waves and the women, women who had, up until this point, stayed more or less silent in the pews. Oh, how times have changed. These are Lucile’s words: “Making our way like rivers from places distant and near, we come together to give shape to a new spirituality… We come together to question. To hear. To share. To speak. To inspire. And to celebrate through new rituals, knowing that our energy and our love are transforming…As rivers in cycle release their waters and regain new beginnings, so do we cycle… these beginnings are powerful, but not easy. But still we come to create and to celebrate and to live by the only spirituality worthy of our devotion—[one] that uplifts, empowers and connects.”
They called this worthy and new spirituality Unitarian Universalism–an alive, expanding and changing tradition that, like water, cycles, pours down, begins again, rushes, retreats, merges, crashes and is made still, quenches, changes, brings life into being…Just like water. What a beautiful symbol for our faith. What a stunning symbol for the work of liberation. And for the healing power of community, of people, of us, of Earth.
And these women brought water from places that held meaning for them. And they let the waters intermingle. A sign of communing, and solidarity. And this big old interdependent web with which we all are a part. This how we see it here too.
This congregation in 1980 was so moved by this women-led worship service, this Water Communion ritual, that they spread its power. Shared it with others. And congregation after congregation began partaking in it. In time, it expanded beyond a ritual to honor just the women, but all people–bowls filled with water from a wide spectrum of hands and place. And often this water would be cleaned and reused, which is what we do here–in child dedications, at memorials, at moments in parishioners lives where we need to be reminded of the power of belonging to one another and to this world. And the power of waters awake-ness and alive-ness. Like those waves. Or our wondrous rainstorm. Praise, praise, praise as our poet writes.
It’s good to know why we do things. Isn’t it? These rituals are not meant to be a flimsy reeds my friends. Far from it.
So, let’s partake in this ritual with all this mind. And I want you to right now just quiet yourselves. Take a breath. Return to yourselves. Bring your time machines back to the now. Feel each other’s presence. Here. Now. Believe me when I tell you that right now, whether you are in this sanctuary or not, known by name or not, you are surrounded with people who love you. Who care about your well-being.
The water that you hold in your hands or are about to hold in your hands–we have some for everyone–it comes from an Earth and place that loves you too. Cares about your well-being. As you do it.
When we allow water and the hands that carry this water to intermingle with other waters and other hands, we give shape to something healing and powerful. A spirituality worthy of our devotion, as Lucille wrote. Let’s bring ourselves to it now.
Let the water communion begin.
I will now pour this water, sourced from this church, to represent all those who are not here today, and to honor the waters of the world: cleansed and polluted; in abundance and in scarcity.
Spirits of the waters, spirits of the land, ancestors, spirits of this place, we have gathered water as a sign of respect, for this our precious Earth, and for one another. May this water teach us and remind us to be healers and good allies to this land and its people. We know that water is life, worthy of praise, and that this water comes from many places–as do we. As we mark the beginning of a church year together, we ask that we stay open to all that this Earth and its people–one another–have to teach us. May this water bless this church and each of us: above us, below us, in every direction. From our hearts, minds, lips, to everyone.
The water has been blessed, as have we. AMEN!
Won’t you now rise in body or in spirit and continue this blessing for our church year and one another by singing May Nothing Evil Cross this Door, hymn #1!
Reverend Sophia Lyons
Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.