UU Women and Religion

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The Water Ritual

The Water Ritual

Water-RitualWe [were] asked to make available the original worship service Coming Home, Like Rivers to the Sea: A Woman's Ritual for distribution at the 1997 General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists in Phoenix, Arizona.

We originally created the worship service for the November 1980 Women and Religion Continental Convocation of Unitarian Universalists in East Lansing, Michigan.

As we worked to give the service shape, our awareness increased of water's presence and deep meaning in our lives. Water is more than simply a metaphor. It is elemental and primary, calling forth feelings of awe and reverence.

Coming back to this service again after seventeen years, we see in it a deeper meaning than we had been aware of earlier. Acknowledging that the ocean is considered by many to be the place from which all life on our planet came—it is the womb of life—and that amniotic waters surround each of us prenatally, we now realize that “Coming Home, Like Rivers to the Sea” was for us a new story of creation.

Lucile Longview
Rosemary Matson
May 21, 1997  

 

A chapter reprinted from Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience (1988)

Coming Home Like Rivers to the Sea: A Women's Ritual

Carolyn McDade and Lucile Schuck Longview

CAROLYN MCDADE is a composer and singer, feminist and social justice activist. Mother of three grown daughters, formerly a homemaker and teacher, she has used her music to explore and express the deep connections between women. In 1982-83 she spent a full year traveling to 70 (mostly Unitarian Universalist) churches around the U.S., doing services and concerts, reflecting with women on their lives and values. In 1981 she went to Central America and is an active worker in the Sanctuary movement and lives in solidarity with the people of Central America. She is co-creator of Womancenter at Plainville. Massachusetts, a small conference and gathering center for the evolving of women's perspectives on justice. “As a singer and songwriter, I believe in the power of women's voices and lives in creating the new society, one that is beautiful, limber, compassionate and just. My music is committed to creating the long-term feminist liberation movement that will birth this transformative change.”

LUCILE SCHUCK LONGVIEW is a seventy-seven-year-old grandmother and liberation feminist. Formerly, as Lucile Schuck, she was a traditional corporate wife and mother. “I think of myself now as ‘Crone Longview,’ named ‘Longview’ by my unconscious nine years ago surprisingly but appropriately (because I consider myself a futurist). The term ‘Crone’ claims the wisdom gained from experience in a long life. Each day I enjoy knowing the person 1 am becoming in this latest sense-of-self. I am caught up in the sacred task of undermining patriarchy. This involves taking apart and examining the threads of the intellectual cocoon into which I have been acculturated and then constructing a more life-giving and sustaining world view, a new consciousness that includes a revised sense of the sacred.”

Beginnings

We were beginning to reach for new and inclusive symbols and rituals that speak to us of our connectedness to one another, to the totality of life, and to our place on this planet. We moved in an intuitive response to the potential of water as a symbol of women's spirituality.

We were working together to create a worship service for the November 1980 “Women and Religion” continental convocation of Unitarian Universalists, to be held in East Lansing, Michigan. The universality of water as a symbol emerged as we worked on what became the service now known as “Coming Home Like Rivers to the Sea.” As we worked to shape the service our awareness increased of water's presence and deep meaning in all our lives.

The water ceremony became the central part of a religious service that broke with tradition in significant ways. It was created by lay women, women who had long been silent in the pews. The ritual space was also made sacred by the women themselves. We gathered to worship in a way authentic and liberating to us, not as in a church but in a semicircle around a large common earthen bowl. It was a ritual of women's being connected by a universal symbol, water, a ritual of women being connected to the totality of life.

The vital parts of the ceremony are the bringing of the waters, the sharing of their meaning, the experiencing of the intermingled waters by the group, and the taking of the waters from the ritual. The ceremony flows from what the participants bring to it. Each brings a container of water that has special meaning to her. She shares with the group why this water is significant to her and what it symbolizes in her life. The water ceremony names water as a symbol close to us as women that is reflective of and enabling to our daily lives. The ceremony releases from us, an expression in words of what is vital, rooted and connected to us. In small gatherings each woman can bring water and speak of its meaning to her. In large groups such as the one at East Lansing a number of women are invited in advance to bring water and participate in the ritual on behalf of us all.

When the water has been mingled, it is then experienced in some way by the women gathered together. We have subsequently been in small groups who circled the bowl, putting our hands in it; we have witnessed the water passed around the circle as women used it to heal one another. We have seen ceremonies spontaneously shaped in the moment or carefully planned, each portion reflected upon. During or after the service there should be an opportunity for those gathered to take a small portion of the water to be carried away. The collected and mingled water thus journeys on into individual lives and often flows into a common bowl at other water ceremonies. As the ritual is continued, water deepens in meaning for us, just as water deepens during its long and winding journey to the sea.

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child ...
    a long way from home, a long way from home.

Sometimes I feel like I've never been heard ...
    a long way from home, a long way from home.

Sometimes I feel I like I've never been seen ...
    a long way from home, a long way from home.

Sometimes I feel like the day has come ...
    and I am coming home, and I am coming home.

                    —traditional spiritual, adapted

The Centering

Religions in recent times have been about the empowerment of men. Women have been lost, unseen and unheard. We gather to lift up our woman identity, our self-understanding. We come with our yearning to find her who acknowledges our birth and our presence, who nurtures life and spirit. It is she who is ourselves—she who, upon meeting, we recognize and need no introduction. It is she who gives birth to all we are and can be—to ideas, thoughts, words and songs—to foggy shaped longings and to fiery rage and to all-encompassing love. She is the center inside ourselves which is our truest truth, our primary honesty —that being, tender, insistent, and passionate toward survival and wholeness. We give birth to her as she gives birth to us, as we give birth to one another.

Making our way like rivers from places distant and near, we come together to give shape to a new spirituality. For there is no theology that calls women to strength rather than to support the strength of others; that calls women to action rather than to passivity; that calls women to full expression rather than to meek acceptance.

Recognizing that, we see we must question every box, every definition, every assignment from an authority outside our own be-ings so that we can create and re-create for ourselves the rituals and symbols that give meaning to us. So we come together to question. To hear. To share. To speak. To inspire. And to celebrate through new rituals, knowing that our energy and our love are transforming.

Celebrating now our connectedness, we choose water as our symbol of our empowerment. As rivers in cycle release their waters and regain new beginnings, so do we cycle. For us as women these beginnings are powerful, but not easy. But still we come to create and to celebrate and to live by the only spirituality worthy of our devotion—a spirituality that uplifts, empowers and connects.

The Meaning of the Waters: “Water Song” *

Listen, Sister, listen,
Listen to the waters
calling us like rivers
to run our truest paths to sea —
from high hill and lowland valley,
and remote areas of our inner be-ings,
in rushing fury, white-foamed and swift,
at times quieting
to hold the colored leaf,
settling in cracks and breaking dams,
tides waxing and waning to answer
the moon,
blood running,
rain falling,
tears
dropping,
the heart beating upstream,
the earth pulling down,
rising in vapor,
falling
in rain,
soaking the roots.

Birth waters holding the babe,
wetting the canal,
signaling the birth.
Water—the mirror giving us back
to ourselves,
our images, our beauty,
our strength,
bodies and faces double-lined
with waves and years.

Water, you fall—there is poetry,
you run, there is music,
you rise, there is dance,
sweeping, swirling, spinning, running,
settling, rushing,
quieting,
rising,
misting,
fog-thick and ice-formed,
thawing, dripping, enlivening
the dry root,
juice of the flower, wine of the fruit,
drop by drop and ocean full,
one water around one earth,
dashing the shore,
soothing the sand,
leaving, returning, together,
apart,
distinct
collective,
Source of Life,
the great recycler,
carver of rocks, writer of canyons, shaper of earth.

Water, you come from the early whispers of my beginnings,
on and on,
intimate of every generation and all to come.
The great equalizer,
morning tea, evening broth,
I know you waters.
We've met some time before.
Why do I know you so well?
You run over my body and I am at home,
you fall on my naked face and I feel
welcomed
from a long journey.
You of a thousand stories, a million
years,
spiraling through formless time,
you of the endless flow,
blood rhythmic, red, mindful
of the moon.

O, but waters, I know,
how I know
and will never forget
you are blood spilled,
blood of the girl-child terrorized
who never had a chance
against the man
entrusted with
her care;
blood of the victor's rape,
and rape
and rape again,
he the returning hero,
honored, medaled,
showered with paper
rain;
blood of the back rooms,
women anguished, near death,
in a world too moral to share the front.
Yes, you are like me, waters,
time upon time caught, channeled, used,
without rights or consultation,
receptacle,
receiver of wastes,
assigned to clean the mess,
or hide it, or
hold it,
exploited, bearer of life they call their own,
confined, owned, fought over,
lost, won,
feared, disregarded, unseen,
unheard,
motherless
in a world that milks the breast,
shuns the blood and terrorizes
the womb,
damming the creative flow for its own sake
while calling itself humane.

Water, I yearn for you in some place
deeper than hope.
surer than Faith.
some place I only know must be
the source of love.
I strain my ears to hear you, Beloved Sister.
beloved one of my earth.
you in my veins.

As I hear, I shall never lose
your call
from rising cloud to running stream.
from feather frost to the deep
and holding sea.
I hear you call —
you call to me gently,
strongly,
clear-depthed, you say
“O, Sister. Beloved One.
    come home.
    come
    home.”

__________
* Copyright © 1982 by Carolyn McDade. All rights reserved.

The Bringing of the Waters

At the first water ceremony in East Lansing we asked women coming from distant points to bring water. From a stream near East Lansing, Linda Pinti came with water, saying: “I took my bucket and went out to the Grand River. As I gathered water I watched the river: moving, flowing, changing. I was reminded of an image in depth-psychology which tells us that each of us, each of our beings, is like a well: if you dig down deep enough into the well of our beings, you will hit the ground water that we all share. The ground water which flows between and among us connects us to each other and to the ‘All That Is.’

“For me the gathering of water is a symbol of the essence and meaning of [women’s gathering.] It is a tapping into the collective ground water that flows among us: the collective energy of the goddess, the liberating, transforming power which is in each of our sisters and in the sister within our brothers.”

There was water from the Rio Grande River in the desert near Albuquerque that another woman brought, but her words were for that moment only and never  written down. Edith Fletcher came with water from a mountain lake in New York State. She said: “This water comes from a spring-fed pond on the summit of a foothill of the Taconic Range in upstate New York. To me it symbolizes the essence of the place where I find renewal—renewal of my physical well-being by swimming in it, canoeing, rowing, sailing on it, exploring fish and insect and plant life in it; renewal of intimacy with my children, grandchildren, and friends who share my love of this place; renewal of my pleasure and wonder in the natural world of forest and fields. This water symbolizes the sustenance and replenishing of those qualities I find good in myself.”

Jean Bramadet from Winnipeg, Manitoba said: “I bring water from Canada, from the north, from the prairies. This water comes from the Assiniboine River which ultimately flows into Hudson Bay. The water from this river is very important to me because I live on the banks of this river; it is almost an extension of my living room and I constantly observe its changes. Sometimes it flows fast and sometimes slowly, quite a bit like my own moods and my own life. I have listened at night to the boom and crack of the ice floes breaking as winter turns into spring. I have watched helplessly as a man drowned in the fast-moving waters before me. I have observed with pleasure the blue herons receiving sustenance from its banks. I have enjoyed the river in all its seasons, skating in the winter, canoeing in the summer. But most of all the river is a symbol of the lasting power of life. The physical part of me may die but, like the river, my spirit will live on.”

Jean Zoerheide, bringing rain from Maryland, said: “These drops of rain fell in Maryland a few days ago. While I held my pan to catch them, dripping from the roof, I could see rain almost filling a slight depression in the driveway where city starlings came to bathe. Cleansing is the property of rain, not purity. From what ocean, stream or field were these molecules drawn upward by the sun? With what other drops did they join to form the cloud that released them to rain upon my state? As I return them to their eternal cycle, I wonder whose distant thirst they will quench in some other land and some other year. Interaction, not purity, is the property of rain: cleansing, refreshing, life-giving, transforming rain!” Another woman whose words were not recorded brought water from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Of water from the Atlantic Ocean Pat Simon said:
Water, deep source,
embracing the earth,
rushing, confronting,
transforming this shore;

Water, dear source,
cradling haven,
crystalline beauty,
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.


Rosemary Matson said: “I bring this water from the Pacific Ocean, from a white sandy beach in Carmel, California. For me, water has been a sustainer, and a teacher. Whether from a pump in the backyard where we drew our water from a well, a task of mine as the oldest girl in a large family. Or our Saturday night baths, when water was heated on the woodstove and poured into a tub on the kitchen floor. The same water bathed us all, my brothers first. I never knew why. Or my job, as the eldest daughter, carrying out, emptying and cleaning the potty, the slop-jar, the night urinal, each morning when the cycle of water intake and discharge was completed. I accepted that role unquestioningly, but grudgingly. There was the happy splashing around in the old swimming hole in the gravel pit. I was resentful that my brothers could go into the water naked. I and the other girls wore bathing suits. There were angry, frustrating, painful times, as when my bully brothers would push my head under the water and I thought I would surely drown. It taught me a fear of water and a hatred of brothers. Surely water was teaching.

She continued: “This summer, water was teacher again to me, and all those early lessons came into focus. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in July brought me to the United Nations Women's Conference in Copenhagen. I was in touch with many women who had crossed many different bodies of water to be there too. These women talked about water and their relationship to it.

“Around the world, women are the traditional ‘drawers’ and ‘carriers’ of water: for household and animal use, for agriculture, for sanitation. It takes an enormous amount of time, and it is a strenuous physical burden. Thirty-two trips a week, forty in the dry season, of six kilometers, for fetching water in the Sudan.

“Low priority is given to improving village water systems, perhaps because few men carry water the long distance day after day. Women were asking to be included in the decision-making process that sought to reduce the distance and frequency of the collection of water. They know it will bring improved hygiene and better health. They have visions of time and energy for themselves, for socializing, sleeping, resting and caring for their children.

“What if some of this same water, from that beach in Carmel, has come from a river in East Africa where women have washed their clothes on a bright sunny day, and found itself mingled with other waters from other rivers and streams, running down to the sea, and into the ocean, and carried by the tides and waves, connecting me with my sisters and with all of us everywhere.”

Coming Home to Our Women's Identity

As our ears become attuned to hearing our inner voices, and the voices of one another, so also do we hear the call of our sisters from far beyond. What spirals in, also spirals out, and beyond space and time. Thus we hear the anguished words and the more anguished silences of women around the earth and through time. We know that our sisterhood extends beyond our land and that we must reach beyond clans and nationalism, beyond languages and cultures, beyond institutions, beyond religions—to our sisters, living hand to living hand, eye to eye, thought to thought, with our compassion for one another, our love of this earth, our very love of life itself, creating bonds between us.

We must lift up in our culture women's significant strengths, insights and understanding, our ways of coping and thinking. We must enter now and shape our world toward one of compassion and a new justice that dares to see and to feel and to respond, toward human concern for life and affirmation of life, toward joyfulness and celebration, toward relationships of love, respect and mutual concern — toward cooperation, connectedness and responsiveness. We bring the inclusiveness of the cycles and the spheres. In our way of understanding life, we name a new meaning.

Such a promise demands that we keep our identity as women.

We cannot fall back to the false assumptions of the faiths of the past, to the biased assumptions that have failed our half, the female half, of the world. We can no longer embrace the patriarchal assumptions underlying traditional faiths. All religions keep women invisible, hide our issues, turn our energy and our loyalty toward concerns which, though labeled "human concerns," consistently lift the priorities of males above all else.

No vision, no world view, has the ability to sustain a just and caring society without a feminist perspective—a perspective that seeks the empowerment of women as well as men. Women must be the ones to promote that perspective, for we are the unbounded ones in crucial ways. We have an outsider understanding and we need to draw on that knowledge. We do not have the investment in the patriarchy that men may have. We do not have the bonds with the power of domination that men have been acculturated to hold and to cherish.

Ours can be an enabling power.

We must come home—come home to our self-understanding.

Let us embrace our woman-identity!

Taking the Waters for Women's Empowerment

We take these birthing waters to name our empowerment, to name our strength to be ourselves, and to name our ability to rise up and to move forth.

We take these birthing waters to call forth our power of questioning, our powers to doubt, our powers to examine every definition and every authority outside ourselves.

We take these amniotic waters to name our imagination and creativity, our power to unveil our thinking and to create new visions.

We take these waters, symbolic of our becoming, to name the reclaiming of our energy and loyalty, to signify that we put ourselves—the thoughts of our minds and the work of our hands—to what we most deeply value.

We take these waters, symbolic of a new genesis, to name our love: of this earth, of our connectedness with people everywhere. and of our devotion to life itself.

At East Lansing five women took of the waters in a symbolic way for all of us, because we were so many. Then we were told that, if we wished to take some of the waters home with us, we should find a way to do so. “Look among the items you brought,” we were told, “the lotions, the creams, the perfumes. Those containers carry the veils we wear—the reminders of our inadequacies. Empty one of those containers. Take with you this symbol of our becoming. Take some of the birthing waters.”

We must lift up life-giving symbols and keep them before us as symbols of our woman's identity, symbols of our empowerment. our questioning, our imagination and creativity, our energy and loyalty, our nurturing and love. We must have our own reminders that we have put aside those other symbols of exclusion and domination, those symbols which have diminished us and now lead to the destruction of our planet.

“Coming Home”

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul,
We're coming home and the healing makes us whole;
Like rivers running to the Sea.
We're coming home, we're coming home.

As the day is woven into night.
As the darkness lives within the light.
    As we open vision to new sight.
We're coming home, we're coming home,

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul . . .

Bearing words born new unto each day,
Speaking bold where only silence lay
    As we dare to rise and lead the way.
We're coming home, we're coming home,

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul . . .
As the full moon waxes into wane,
Changing, yielding all that she did gain,
    As from death she dares be born again,
We're coming home, we're coming home,

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul . . .

To reclaim the thinking of our mind,
    Leaving shackles lying far behind,
Bearing hope for every soul confined,
We're coming home, we're coming home,

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul . . .

To create a world of joy and peace,
Where the power of justice does release
    Love abounding, wars forever cease,
We're coming home, we're coming home,

We're coming home to the spirit in our soul . . .

__________

Copyright © 1980 Surtsey Publishing. All rights reserved. Words and music by Carolyn McDade.

Sharing of the Waters

As water changes form and moves in a life-giving cycle, so this water ceremony must move, be in process, change, be in motion. It needs always to be reflective of and integral to the time and place of the people creating it.

In reading or using this service we think it is important to notice that the water ceremony was woven into a worship service. Creating that service has had its own value for us in what it gave to us. It brought us together for many hours of sharing and conversation, analyzing, planning, creating, clarifying. It called us to articulation, to pulling foggy-shaped thoughts into words. We each spoke and listened. We wrote down one another's words. We spoke them back with added meaning. It was a bonding and empowering experience for us, and we commend this sort of experience to you.

We hope our sisters continue to reach for the depth and inclusiveness of  symbols that speak to women and that draw upon our daily experiences. We need symbols with enabling power that connect us with what we most deeply value and which empower our expression of this in our lives.

__________
For more information
about the music, tapes and CDs of Carolyn McDade,
write Carolyn McDade Music,
Crystal Spring Earth Learning Center, 76 Everett Skinner Rd., Plainville, MA 02762 www.carolynmcdademusic.com
__________
This text with the accompanying sheet music is available as a printed booklet.

PERMISSION TO PERFORM CAROLYN'S SONGS:  pdf Permission letter CarolynMcDade (46 KB)