A Water Communion Sunday Homily by Reverend Jill Cowie, September 10, 2017
As I watched the videos from Houston I was transfixed by the power of water to transform once urban landscapes into unrecognizable water worlds. I am also transfixed by the people who navigated these water worlds to rescue elders, families, and even toddlers kept dry in large plastic bins. I marvel at how people in need used an on-line radio app to reach volunteer dispatchers who then used a Google spreadsheet to find the closest volunteer team to rescue them. And how this effort seems to flow as easily and as powerfully as the water that called them to the task. I love too, the stories of steadfastness and humor amid the crisis. One woman, who rebuilt her flood zone home 15 years ago after the last flood, told her radio interviewer she will rebuild again and then in true southern hospitality fashion she asked, “Do you want to come in, the house isn’t exactly clean.”
Water connects us in the common experiences of being alive. It connects us in our joy, our sorrow, and in our witness. The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Of all the elements of the world, fire water, air, and earth, the Sage takes water as their teacher.” The Buddha likened life to a river that is always flowing and changing and for the indigenous people water is our connection to all living things.
Scientist, Wallace J. Nichols sheds some light on why this is true. He says just being in or around water helps to connect two pathways in our brain.* The pathway that processes internal emotions connects with the pathway that processes what is happening externally. According to Nichols these two pathways usually take turns. But when we are around water they are more likely to come together to give us a heightened sense awareness with feelings of bliss and oneness. Being around water gives us a sense of belonging and love for this world.
This is something Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous oceanographer Jacque Cousteau also knows to be true. And that is why years ago, as Jean Michel sat on the porch of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary office building where my husband Ben works, he asked my then middle-school age daughters for their most memorable water story. He wanted them to give voice to this sense of belonging and love for the world, especially the water world. My daughters spent most of the first six years of their life in the Florida Keys and Morgan told him about the day she picked up a clump of seaweed and discovered a little sea horse enfolded in the seaweeds air sac. Kate told him about snorkeling at Looe Key and the day she popped back up to the surface, saying “mommy mommy I saw a good night fish.” Meaning the Midnight Parrot fish. My own water story came to me later, a memory from my college days but it feels like yesterday.
I am on Andros Island, a remote island in the Bahamas, its January 1979 and I am with my sister Gail and 10 other women. We are taking a January term marine biology class and on this day I am drawing a sun in the sand on the beach where we had spent the last three weeks camping in tents that look like white covered wagons with out wheels. Next to the sun, I draw one arrow going up, and the other going down. Looking at Kenny, I put my arms out and made the sounds of an airplane. His eyes tell me he understands that we would be leaving soon, and his face fills with sadness, though we met only a few weeks ago during our first night on the island at a small cafe a short distance down the dirt road from our camp. We were looking for something to do and the windows of the cafe welcomed us like lanterns and the wide porch opened invitingly. We could hear the slapping sound of wood upon wood as we walked up the steps, and as we peered into the slightly open door, the hubbub quieted as a room full of locals all looked up at the same time, then collectively waived us in. We each settled at the one empty seat at each of the tables, suddenly paired as a team in a dueling game of dominoes. Kenny was my partner and he taught me to match sixes, and fours with his magnanimous smile and the sparkle of his eyes. Soon my hands were slapping dominoes down with the same exuberance.
Over the next few weeks Kenny visited our beach always with stray dogs at his heels, and as he watched my sister and me with bandanas holding back our hair place a 3 ft. by 3 ft. square gird over each patch of sharp lime stone rock to count the number of periwinkles or snails living in the intertidal zone, wonder, humor and disbelief danced over his face. His presence always eased our backbreaking work. I didn’t want him to come for visit to find the beach deserted after we left and that’s why I was drawing the sun and the arrows in the sand to tell him he we would soon be leaving. To my relief he understood, for Kenny was both deaf and mute. His sadness lasted but a minute for he suddenly gestured enthusiastically for Gail and I to follow him past the mangrove swamps, with the fiddle crabs waving at us as they scuttled side ways to the holes, to a trail that led us to the bank of the river. All three of us floated on our backs arms stretched wide, finger brushing each other from time to time, smiles passing the hours as we were for carried by the constant current to the lulling embrace of the sea. Floating, I knew that though the sun would set on Andros Island, my deep sense of fondness for Kenny is timeless.
That’s my water story and I am asking you the same question that John Michael asked my daughters -what is your favorite water story? What story gives you a sense of belonging and love for the world?
(Sharing and then Water Communion Ritual)
*Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,