Monday, September 03, 2018

Water & Community

This is this text of the reflections I offered on September 2, 2018, at the congregation I serve in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Water is pretty awesome.
50% - 60% of the human body is made up of water.  Did you know that?  50% - 60%.  And some 75% -- ¾ -- of the earth’s surface is covered in water.  (Some people say we shouldn’t call our planet “Earth;” we should have called it, “Water.”)  Life on this planet, at least, began in the primordial oceans, and biologists and chemists believe that only water and carbon are necessary for life to arise.  And not only is water needed for life to arise, it’s vital for life to continue – you can live for about a month without food, yet only for about 3 – 5 days if you have no water.
Water is essential.
And water is powerful, too.
As Leia just said, we’ve seen, both in the news and, maybe, even on our own roads and in our own basements, the dramatic power of water.
Yet water has another kind of power, too.  In Chapter 78 of the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote:
Nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet in overcoming the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
Has anybody ever taken some water in your hand and let it run through your fingers?  It’s clearly a fluid, it just flows out of your hand so easily, doesn’t it?  Yet anyone who’s ever done a cannonball –how many of us have ever done a cannonball? – we know that water can also be really, really hard.
Even in its fluid, though, it’s “soft and yielding” state, water is powerful.  The Grand Canyon, which in places is as much as a mile deep, was formed by the Colorado River cutting through the solid rock of the Colorado Plateau.  It took a while – roughly 6 million years – but in a game of rock, paper, scissors, water, water will always win in the end.
This morning we’re about to celebrate a ritual that Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country will also be celebrating as part of their In-Gathering services.  The water communion apparently began back in the 1980s, and we’ve been doing it here for a long, long time.
We line up.  Each one of us carrying a little contain of water, and we pour our water into this common bowl.  We do this, of course, to symbolize the kind of community we strive to create here – each of us bringing our own individual selves, together forming something more than any one of us alone.
Yet the water itself adds to that symbol, because it turns out that coming together in community is essential, just as water is essential.  Scientists tell us that people who don’t have community can’t sleep as well, have weakened immune systems, and higher levels of stress hormones.  Children who grew up without strong communities are in poorer health 20 years later than their peers who did have wider connections.  Loneliness can increase the risk of stroke by about 1/3, and it’s as damaging to our health as smoking.  (Even our Transcendentalist ancestor, Henry David Thoreau, knew about the importance of community.  During his experiment of living alone in the woods around Walden Pond, Thoreau would actually left his 10’ x 16’ cabin from time to time to go into Concord and have dinner with his friend Emerson.)
Community is essential.
And, like water, community is powerful.
The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
The incomparable Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray once said, “One person plus a typewriter equals a movement.”  (For those who don’t know, a typewriter is an old-fashioned word processor.)  And while that is in many ways true, it is also true that the hundreds of thousands of people who participated in the Women’s March in Washington D.C., and the million or more who took part around the globe, would have had far less of an impact that if only one person had showed up.
Although our fiscal year begins in July, this really feels like the beginning of the church year.  Some of us traveled during the summer, others stayed around here but were busy doing a whole bunch of things, and a whole lot of people kept coming to church more weeks than not, yet the annual In-Gathering Water Communion service feels like our coming back together.
So, as we come back together, readying ourselves for another year of trying to live by our Unitarian Universalist principles; wanting to grow ourselves, make a difference in the lives of those around us, and help to heal the world; let us remember just what it is we are signing up for.  We are agreeing to bring our own, individual selves and to join with others in the creation of something that’s larger than any of us.
Because community is essential for life.
Because community is powerful.

Pax tecum,
Rev. Wik

(PS -- the Closing Words were an excerpt from the Marge Piercy poem, "The Low Road")

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