Be Like Water


Malidoma Patrice Some’ says “where ritual is absent, the young ones are restless, there are no real elders, and the grown-ups are bewildered”. Join us for a ritual rich ingathering during which we will offer water to our communal bowl to symbolize how each one of us is necessary for the vitality of our community, and how in turn the community blesses each of our lives with connection to one another, to our past, and to what we know as Holy. From this our future forms and flows.

The Sermon

Irish poet John Donahue talks about beauty in terms of thresholds, when you cross different territory of the spirit to discover an emerging fullness. This morning, I invite you to explore with me these thresholds of the spirit, moments you experience the beauty of your emerging fullness. Author David James Duncan, in his memoir, describes such a moment when he was a kid.

“I was born…without a watershed. On a planet held together by gravity and fed by rain, a planet whose every creature depends on water and whose every slope works full-time, for eternity, to create creeks and rivers, I was born with neither.
The dehydrated suburbs of my boyhood felt as alien to me as Mars…I didn’t rebel against the situation. Little kids don’t rebel. That comes later, along with the hormones. What I did was hand-build my own rivers. Breaking all neighborhood records in the process for the amount of time spent running a garden hose. You see in Southeast Portland, there was nothing much there at all. Dehydrated Martians seemed to cover the place completely. So I would fasten the family hose to an azalea bush at the uphill end of one of my mother’s sloping flower beds, turn the faucet on as hard as Mom would allow, and watch hijacked Bull Run River water spring forth in an arc and start cutting a minuscule, audible river down through the bed. I’d then camp by this river all day.

As my river ran and ran, the thing I loved began to happen. Creation. The flower-bed topsoil slowly washed away, and a stream bed of tiny colored pebbles gradually appeared: a bed that soon looked just like that of genuine river, complete with tiny point bars and cutbacks, meanders and eddies, fishy-looking riffles, slow pools. It was a nativity scene, really: the entire physics and fluvial genius of gravity-meets-water-meets-earth incarnating in perfect miniature. I built matchbook-sized hazelnut rafts and cigarette-butt-sized elderberry canoes, launched them on my river, let them ride down to the gargantuan driveway puddle that served as my Pacific. I stole three inch tall blue plastic cavalry soldier from my brother’s Fort Apache set, cut the stock off his upraised rifle so that only the long, flexible barrel remained, tied a little thread to the end of the barrel to serve as a fly line, and sent the soldier fishing. I’d then lie flat on my belly and stare at this US. Cavalry dropout, thigh deep in his tiny river, rifle-rod high in the air, line working in the current, stare till I become him, stare till, in the sunlit riffle, we actually hooked and landed a tiny sun-glint fish. “Shut off that hose! My mother would eventually shout out the kitchen window. “You’ve turned the whole driveway into a mud hole!Poor mom, I’d think. This not a mud hole. Its a tide flat.”

I love how this self-made watershed brings David James Duncan back to life, back to a place of congruence with his world, back to a place of beauty. I like this story too because when I was in school to become a minister, I had a part time job as a watershed advocated and I was hired by the state to write a watershed action plan for all the south coastal rivers from Cohasset to Plymouth that drain into Massachusetts Bay. The whole coast south of Boston until you reach the cape. Like James Duncan, I bathed in the liquid world and felt the river enter within. I became part of the sacred realm. It was like discovering this earth for the very first time. I pulled over at ponds and look for fish passage, and when it when it rained I watched the silt-laden water pouring into storm drains and wondered in what estuary the sediment would settle. I remember driving across a small bridge and seeing the sign “Drinkwater River” and in that one moment feeling connected with the beautiful headwaters of the North River, the discharge pipe of the Rockland Sewage Treatment plant, the Pembroke ponds threatened by pollutants. Watershed connect me with beauty, a connection that helps me see with clarity and compassion the places life isn’t flourishing. As I mapped and walked the south coast watersheds, each one so unique, and so very interconnected, I discovered an emerging fullness of purpose and belonging. Like David James Duncan, I became part of creation.

And I tell you this because to me, this community is a watershed, each of us inviting threshold-crossings of beauty. And I don’t mean this simply as a metaphor. West African author Malidoma Patrice Some says to create beauty consistently requires community, one that honors both the elders and the youth. You can’t have one without the other. If a culture rejects elders, it rejects the welfare of the youth, and if it rejects the sacred, it rejects the elders. In his village every spring on festival day, the children line up 90 feet away from the elders sitting on red stool, thrones really of dignity and worth. The children sing a common song and laughingly run towards them landing sweetly in their lap, claiming their grandparent for that year, any elder can be a grandparent. They dance together after the meal, in a sense of affinity, as they are the closest to the mystery that came before birth, and the mystery to come.

Older youths are matched with a mentor, and are the midwife for that youth’s genius. If a youth is particularly unruly, it is understood that this person is asking for guidance, and a mentor naturally emerges, someone who has been there in their place of difficulty once, someone in whom the youth can see their destiny. Once their genius is birthed, the elders offer their blessing by making space for the youth to serve the greater good. Elders are respected not only for their old age but also for their maturity. They are the ones that hold grievances, and from their knowledge and life experience they offer gentle guidance. The Elders are ancestors in training, and hold the wisdom of the living tradition. They are recognized and honored for doing so, for being an ancestor in training is hard.

This is Malidoma’s village. Can you see in their intentional relationships the threshold crossings of the spirit that create beauty? Do you recognize qualities of his village you know to be true for this village of a congregation? I witness beautiful relationships here between youth, mentors, and elders that have a quality of care that nourishes emergence and love. And I know we can be more intentional about doing this collectively as a village. Malidoma says don’t give up the moment there is tension. Tight connection, he says, creates friction and friction among people deepens their sense of belonging. We also need to remember that adults feel sometimes that society has treated their genius carelessly and they come to church restless, trying to remember why they are here. Adults need mentoring too.

Here in this village of a congregation, there are powers that can only be unleashed with such a supportive atmosphere, powers that unleash our ability to unlock potential in others and ourselves. When we feel connected to an entire community, this connection can extend far beyond the community into the living world, with our ancestors and with nature. We create watersheds of connection.

The Buddhist have a practice of meditation that invites the brahmaviharas, the four heavenly abodes – loving kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity. This meditation helps us truly see each other and our intrinsic connectivity and we are going to practice now. Please make sure you are sitting near someone.
(The Four Heavenly Abodes Meditation)
Welcome to the watershed.

Water Communion

In many indigenous cultures, water is the cosmological element that cools the fires, and reorients energy towards continuity and community. And its true, I think for most of us, that we often feel the need to return again and again to water for cleansing, reconciling, and making peace in the face of life’s challenges. And that water rituals such as this one, help us find balance, especially emotionally. The simple act of adding water to the common bowl helps us feel connected to a greater whole, and an expansiveness that holds our grief, relieves our strained relationships and invites peace into places of tension. As you bring water up consider something in your life that needs healing and offer this to the common bowl. Invite this spaciousness into your heart. May this congregation call you into beauty. May this community bless you and sustain you in the week and months to come.

In our opening hymn we sang, we shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth. These lines remind of our ancestors whose wisdom, and teachings still inform what we do. A libation ceremony gives thanks for the gifts of our ancestor’s wisdom. In a few moments I will offer some of our community water in gratitude to the fichus tree and I ask that you take a moment and find two ancestors you want to name out loud, one from your family, and one from our UU tradition who guides you, whose wisdom and way of being you carry forth in your life. And I also ask that you call forth another ancestor with whom your relationship needs repair, one from your family, and one from our UU tradition, maybe this church. By offering the name of those from whom we feel estranged, we are recognizing that failures do not define us and that this relationship can still heal. The ancestors can still alive, ancestors in training, just as long as they just inform what you do. Let us begin with those that sustain you, please offer their names as pour the water. And now let us pour water to help heal the ancestors from whom we feel estranged.

Let us end as we began singing “Let Us Be Known”

Closing Words

Blessed be this community of memory and hope, which in its coming together, and in its sharing of joy and sorrow, struggle and triumph, blesses all who come here, and makes these waters holy. Go forth, renewed, offering your unique and beautiful thirst quenching love.