If we trace the water ritual that we celebrate today back to its original source, we go back to 1980, to the Women and Religion Continental Convocation of Unitarian Universalists. Carolyn McDade–the composer who wrote some of our congregation’s most beloved hymns–and Lucile Shuck Longview–a powerful feminist lay leader–devised a ritual where eight women from around this continent brought water from their distant places to the convocation in East Lansing, Michigan, called “Coming Home Like Rivers to the Sea.”
They write, “Water is more than simply a metaphor. It is elemental and primary, calling forth feelings of awe and reverence. Acknowledging that the ocean is considered by many to be the place from which all life on our planet came—it is the womb of life—and that amniotic waters surround each of us prenatally. We now realize that [this worship service] was for us a new story of creation. We choose water as our symbol of our empowerment.”
Congregations recognized the power in this ritual of the many waters and experiences poured into a common bowl. They began to use the convocation’s water ritual to celebrate their fall ingathering.
We celebrate the water ritual, almost 43 years after the convocation, to celebrate our own coming together. If you brought water from a place in your life, hold it in your hands. When you pour water into our common bowl, call to mind a time that water has touched your life in the last year. Imagine the place that the water comes from. What is meaningful to you about that place? Was anyone there with you? Do you remember sounds or smells or things someone said? Do any feelings come up in connection with this water? Take a breath, and when you’re ready, let it go.
If the water comes from a place of strength, share some of that strength with the congregation. If the water comes from hardship and struggle, allow the congregation to hold part of the burden. If the water comes from wellsprings of tradition, deepen our streams with this continuity. If the water comes from rains of change, share this fluidity with us. If the water comes from a clean start, share some of its freshness.
Many Unitarian Universalist congregations are celebrating this ritual today, across the continent and around the world. We know that all the planet’s waters are connected in the water cycle. Let us share our water.