Ingathering Service 2014
Reverend Tom Capo
Story--The Water Bearer's Garden (Reverend Tom)
(From uu & me! Collected Stories, edited by Betsy Hill Williams; Boston: Skinner House, 2003).
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on one end of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. At the end of the long walk from the stream on the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. For two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
"Why?" asked the bearer, "What are you ashamed of?"
"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house.
Because of my flaws, you have to do all this work, and you don't get full value from our efforts," the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt sad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on our side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.
"We all have our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots. In the great web of life, nothing goes to waste. Don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength.
Reflection on the Water Communion
This is an image of two Unitarian Universalists is from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo-Moorhead’s website. Beneath the picture is a quote from the father about collecting water for their water communion: “In late June, we unplugged from our lives, piled in the trusty station wagon, and took off for the North Shore of Lake Superior. We couldn’t have picked a worse weekend – chilly temperatures, choppy water, and fog every single day! On the morning we packed up to head home, the sun shined and the water was smooth. We took one last opportunity to enjoy the beach, scrambling on the rocks and skipping stones. My girls begged for a water bottle to fill with (freezing) Lake Superior water to bring home. Ever the sponges, they remembered the water communion held at our church last fall and wanted to make sure we could again contribute a little water from our summer journey.” I would not be surprised if many of you, like this father and daughter, thought about the water communion sometime this summer. As you came in today, I saw some of you with little containers of water. I too brought some water.
When I think about this ceremony, two things occur to me: its history and its meaning for us today. I am not sure if all of you here know about its history, so I will give the cliff notes version of it. In November 1980, Unitarian Universalists Carolyn McDade and Lucile Schuck Longview were preparing worship for a “Women and Religion” continental convocation. They wanted to create “new and inclusive symbols and rituals that speak to our connectedness to one another, the totality of life, and to our place on the planet.” (from The Water Ritual by Carolyn McDade and Lucile Schuck Longview) Their “intuitive response [was] to the potential of water as a symbol…” “The vital parts of the ceremony are the bringing of waters, the sharing of their meaning, the experiencing of the intermingled waters by the group, and the taking of the waters from the ritual.”
This ritual has spread throughout of our congregations to mark the beginning of the church year, when our children’s religious education classes start and many other programs kick off. My experience of this ritual has been mixed to say the least. I participated in my first water communion in Houston, Texas at Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church. What I remember is people pouring water and telling about their fabulous vacations across the country and around the world. I have to say that while it was interesting and, I’ll be honest, made me a little jealous of all the travel opportunities some of our members enjoyed, it wasn’t very spiritual to me. I participated year after year, but found often myself reluctant to go—I didn’t get much from it, apart from envy of other people’s adventures. When I looked into the history and meaning of this ritual, I felt we had somehow lost something in the translation from the intimate inclusive ceremony that was so meaningful to the women at the Continental Convocation. Somehow, that connectedness, that intimacy was no longer evident as the larger church community started incorporating the water communion into their ingathering ceremony. I wondered, “How had we lost the expressions of deep connection that come from deep sharing?”
When I was a new minister, I asked people not to talk about their trips during the water communion, but to talk about the meaning of their water. Well, people still wanted to talk about their vacations to Colorado or Alaska or London or China. And they complained to me about putting this kind of “restriction” on the water communion, citing our second Principle, justice and equity in human relations. I was startled by this response. Each year I tried something different: I asked people to bring pictures of where their water came from, rather than talk about where their water came from—and we projected the pictures during the service; I asked people to limit themselves to one sentence, or like today, six words. I struggle with how to reclaim the original goals of this ceremony, the goals of inclusiveness, connectedness, of sharing meaning.
Recently I read a sermon by Unitarian Universalist minister Reverend Amy Zucker Morgenstern called “Lifting Water Communion above Privilege and Trivia.” Let me share a couple of excerpts from this sermon: “It is so easy for our ingathering ceremony, in which people bring water and pour it into a communal bowl, to turn into a “what I did on my summer vacation” recitation, which can make the ritual obliviously exclusive of those who don’t have summer homes, or summer vacations, or the money for airfare, or the luxury to stop working for even one week of the year…the class issue is only part of what’s awry with the…ritual. [Where is the] “We are separate beings and yet all one,”…one of the profoundest truths we try to encompass?”
This brings me to the story from this morning. The water jug that is intact may seem like so many of our lives. At least on the outside we are whole. This is what that looks like: we have more than enough money to support ourselves; we have time to spend with our families; we have great fulfilling jobs; we have great vacations. However, in reality, we are all a little cracked and leaking. Our lives are not perfect. We are not always happy, content, or capable of managing all that life throws our way. It is in the imperfections where meaning, beauty, purpose, and growth occur. And for many of us, these imperfections have motivated us to seek out community. Is every imperfection a problem that needs to be solved? I don’t think so. And how would we come to a meaningful definition of what “perfect” is anyway? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my energy celebrating the imperfections that make each of us unique, rather than spending time trying to figure out how to measure up to a state of being that is impossible for any human to achieve. We gather not to share the put-together facade that we have to present to the outside world. We come here to be genuine with one another, to be ourselves with one another, to be accepted just as we are, cracks and all. This is what I hope we share with one another as we approach this ceremony; not sharing the superficial with one another, but the meaningful, the connections, the imperfections, the genuine aspects of ourselves. This is what will make this ceremony holy.
I have tried to craft a water communion that honors some of the original intent of the ceremony, so that we all might come close to the experience of the women at their continental convocation so many years ago. I did not ask you to just say six words this morning to restrict you, but to invite you into deep consideration of the meaning of your life experiences that you have had in this past year. I want your words to be as precious, as personal, as the drops of water you bring to share. The water represents our connection with one another and with all creation. Your water speaks about journeys of your heart, your mind, your soul, not about the journey of your body. It is part of my own spiritual practice to keep some of the water which is made sacred by your sharing for baby dedications and to pour into our waters next ingathering. It is also part of my spiritual practice to pour some of our water into a plant, which represents our connection to all creation. These are practices I have found to bring deep connectedness and inclusiveness back to this much beloved Unitarian Universalist ritual. In future years, we might add new aspects to this ritual to make it more personal to this, your community. I want this to your water communion. And I hope you talk with me about what would make this mingling of water touch your heart. I want to us craft it in a way that Carolyn McDade and Lucile Schuck Longview did those many years ago—their purpose was to empower women, to create a sacred ritual by women for women, “for women who had long been silent in the pews.” I want, and I hope, our purpose will be not only to empower women, but anyone who feels they have “long been silent in the pews” or in our case “long silent in the chairs.” Our water communion embodies our connection with one another and to all creation. Our water communion celebrates the beginning of our year together. Our water communion is about sharing meaning/transformation/spirit/genuineness with one another. Every drop of water offers an opportunity to explore deeper meanings and wider theologies. We have the power to make that happen here.
I want to tell you what one of the women shared about her water during that first ceremony. “Of the water from the Atlantic Ocean Pat Simon said:
Water, deep source,
Embracing the earth,
Transforming this shore;
Water, dear source,
Rain on parched land;
Water, sweet sources,
Linking the eons,
Stirring our memories
Roots for our growth;
Water, warm cauldron
Of our revolution,
For love of life that
Brings a sea-change;
Water, sweet message,
Nourish our spirit,
Christen and bless
The new air we breathe.
I realize she said more than six words. But she spoke of the personal meaning the water had for her, not about how she got to go to the Atlantic Ocean. Today, in our water communioni, I invite you into a time of shared meaning, of mingling waters, and of co-creation of community. I invite you to seek and find in your hearts the words that will express your meaning. We gather here to open ourselves and listen to your meaning, so that we may, perhaps, make meaning for ourselves. I thank each of you in advance for sharing yourself with us, and for honoring us with the sharing of your water.