The water communion is such an established part of our Unitarian calendar and is so evocative of rituals and readings from a variety of religious traditions, that it can seem like it’s been around forever. While the echoes are as ancient as the human journey, the ritual itself comes from a more recent feminist revisioning of religion.
The first-ever water communion was held at the Women and Religion conference of Unitarians and Universalists in East Lansing, Michigan in 1980. It was designed by activist and composer Carolyn McDade and UU leader Lucile Schuck Longview. McDade and Longview wanted to raise up women’s voices within religious spaces and to help women feel the connection that they share with one another. McDade and Longview hoped that the women present at the ceremony would understand intuitively that their life and work – their journey – was not a disconnected fragment but an integral part the larger whole.
Although McDade and Schuck hoped that in small groups everyone would be able to speak, the Women and Religion conference was too large for this to happen, so they had symbolic water carriers bring water from the four directions.
The water from the North was brought by Jane Bramadat of Winnipeg, a familiar name to long-time Unitarians: before her retirement, Jane served the First Unitarian Church of Victoria as their minister. Jane said this about her water:
“I bring water from Canada, from the north, from the prairies. This water comes from the Assiniboine River which ultimately flows into Hudson Bay. . . . 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.”
At the water communion, each of us is invited to pour water into the large bowl, naming what the water means to us. As water moves through its cycles, across the land, up into the air and back down again, so too our lives shift and change. The water ritual makes space for each of us to name where we are at right now, and to be seen and known in community.
We look forward to seeing you on September 9th.