A River Flowing

We are in the midst today of the High Holy days of the Jewish tradition. The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Days of Awe, a time to get right with yourself, your neighbors, and with your God.  If you have regrets, it might be time to let them go.  If you need to make amends to someone you have harmed, this is a good time to do so.

The Days of Awe are annual event and come in season with the fall and with the harvest.

We try to pay attention to the seasons here in this church.  Today we replaced our alter cloths with colors inspired by the autumn.  Take some time this morning to reflect on what the changing season might mean to you.  It is both a beginning and an ending.  It is good to pay attention.

Today is also our annual water communion.  It is not an ancient tradition.  It was created in 1980 at the Women & Religion continental convocation and it is a celebration of both community and of what each individual brings to that community.


This ritual is for young and old, for rich and poor, for gay and straight, for the able and less able, for people of all backgrounds, races, and situations.  It is for founding members and first time visitors. The water will be poured into a common bowl symbolizing that whoever we are, that for whatever reason we have come here this morning, we bring with us something of value, something to be treasured, and something to be shared.  The water will be used throughout the coming year in special ceremonies. Some of the water is added each week to the bowl in which we drop stones. It holds our sorrows and our regrets.  It is the image of a spirit of a community that attempts to welcome all, in the fullness of who they are, wherever they happen to be on their life’s journey.


Water is a wonderful symbol, a wonderful metaphor. Single drops of water, over time, can change the hardest stone. The power of water is even greater when those drops are gathered together and flow as one, one stream, one river, and one ocean.


Water is essential to life.  Without it we would die.  Community is also essential to our lives as human beings.  Without human contact, the soul withers and dies.  Times of solitude can be good for self-reflection, but long lasting solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments that have ever been devised.


One of my favorite poems is I’ve Know Rivers by Langston Hughes, an African American poet from the Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s and also a gay man. It is in our hymnal #528.  Let’s read it together.


I’ve known rivers:

I’ve know rivers ancient as the

World and older than the flow of

Human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.



I bathed in the Euphrates when

dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and

It lulled me to sleep.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I looked upon the Nile and raised

The pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the

Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

Went down to New Orleans and

I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn

All golden in the sunset.

I’ve know rivers:

Ancient dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


Our souls grow deep, I believe, when we become more aware of our connections. Souls, like rivers, cannot stand still, movement, change is in their very nature.  Just as rivers seek the sea, we humans seek connection with something greater than ourselves.  One of our tasks, as human beings, and collectively as a religious community, is to deepen our souls, to increase our understanding, and to move forward toward that transformative moment when we know that we are not alone.  That no one is alone.  Just like in our opening hymn, the peace, the sorrow, the joy, the pain, the love, the tears, and the strength each of us has within us, fills us and binds us together as we move toward the sea of mutual care and understanding.

All of it, all of the individual drops of our complicated lives come together and create the spirit of life that can both heal and transform. It is then we really feel the power of the river, the power of love.  It is a wellspring of the spirit that calls us to drink deeply and be satisfied and renewed.


This Church has had a Gathering of the Waters service since its very beginning.  Each year we add more water to what has been collected in years past.  It connects our community over time and over space.


Some of you may have brought water with you today that you gathered from somewhere special to you.  If you have done that, please think for a minute about the moment you gathered that water.  What did you feel?  Perhaps the water is from a distant place, a river, lake, or ocean.  Maybe it is from a drinking fountain or from your kitchen.

If you forgot to bring water or if you simply didn’t know that we would be doing this today, we have some carafes of water here for you to use.  Think about where you would have collected water; think about what might have been meaningful to you.


Water is precious, no matter where it is from.  Too many in our world do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.  Too many people are hungry.  People are precious.  Too many in our world do not have access to a caring and inclusive religious community.


It takes many drops of water to form a river and it takes many individuals to form a community, to form a congregation.


As we gather the water together this morning, let us remember to share the best of ourselves with each other and to hold each other in tenderness.  It is each of us singly and together that create this community, and it is together that we make this ceremony sacred and holy.


I invite you each to think for a moment about what you bring with you today, something that is important, that is in your soul, in your heart, something that makes you the individual you are, precious and holy.  You don’t have to name this in words; it can just be a feeling, maybe a hope that has rested quietly inside of you, maybe a passion, a yearning, whatever your heart, your spirit suggests.

If you have found something, a feeling, whatever it is, even if is a sense of confusion, consider it as a gift, an offering, a blessing that you bring to both this community and to the planet.  If you haven’t found it yet, continue to let your mind and emotions swirl around it.  Something will come to you.  Each of you has something very special inside of you that can give you the power to bless the world. Maybe it is a type of energy that can feel like a refreshing rain, and perhaps it is the simple tears of tenderness and longing.


After the musical reflection, I add some of the water that we have gathered over the years to the bowl. Then, I will invite each of you to come forward to share your gift of the spirit as you add your own water to the bowl

First the children and youth may come and after them I will call up our elders.


Each of those two groups, the young and the old, has special and unique gifts they bring to this community.  I will invite them to briefly share some of their wisdom with us, if they should feel so moved.


After they have returned to their seats, please come forward when you are ready.  If you have brought food for our food shelf, you may bring that forward as well and place it in or near the bin.


Add your water without words if that feels right or, if you want, perhaps whisper a word or two that describes what you are feeling.  Nic will be playing while we do this, so not everyone will hear whatever words may be spoken, but we will all be listening to each other, with the fullest attention of our hearts.

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