Welcoming the New Year: The Water Communion Tradition


Contributed by The Rev. Sarah Person

“Can we be like drops of water/Falling on the stone/Splashing, breaking, dispersing in air/
Weaker than stone by far but be aware that/As time goes by, the rock will wear away.”
-Holly Near, “The Rock Will Wear Away”

Every tradition and every ritual starts somewhere. They start with people who want to express something deep; something that connects the real with the sacred. We light altar candles. We ring chimes or beat drums or burn incense. We sing songs that come from the heart to praise, to bless, to cry out our joy and our fear and, most of all, our hope. Many of these rituals are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Although Unitarians and Universalists have been around for centuries, one of their most popular rituals around the world, the Water Communion, is less than forty years old. At a conference in Michigan, the women who attended felt that what they did in worship did not mean much to them spiritually, or make them feel connected to one another. They asked Carolyn McDade and Lucile Longview to create a ritual for the conference that spoke to women and nature and the environment and the power to do justice. (Eliza Blanchard, The History of the Water Service)

So McDade and Longview had all the women sit in a circle and each of them poured water that they had brought with them into a bowl. For each woman, the water symbolized aspects of life; birth, the cycles of the sun and moon and seasons, the water that surrounds us and makes life possible. The first Sunday service of every Autumn, in congregations all around the world, women, men and children bring vials of water that represent a place where something important and memorable happened. By mingling our water, we combine our stories – remembering that each one of us is precious and unique, yet, by virtue of the life we share, connected and dependent on one another. We praise the gift of life, and affirm our commitment to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom water, like other basic necessities, is a precious commodity too often denied. At the conclusion of the service, some congregations conserve the water to be purified and used for rites of passage. Others, like our church in Middleborough, invite the children in the congregation to pour the water out over our Memorial Garden. In this way, we link our past, our present and our future together as a Beloved Community.


Holy Listening


Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers

In this very contentious election season, I am finding myself feeling overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with messages, overwhelmed with reactions, overwhelmed with expressions of hate and anger, and when I get overwhelmed, I get anxious.  My mind starts whirling around, exploring all of the horrible scenarios that have been suggested, until I feel afraid.  Of course, fear is a weapon in this political season.  It can be an effective way to propel people into an action that you want them to take.  But actions taken out of fear are rarely helpful.  Most often they are problematic, and sometimes destructive.  Fear is contagious, and it sets up a cycle that encourages others to lash out in fear as well.  There is a part of me that simply wants to shut it all out, retire to a place where no one can find me, where there are no newspapers, no television, and no internet until all of this fear-laden rhetoric is gone.  But I can’t.  I have a responsibility to act on behalf of my community, be it local or national or even global.  I need to listen, but I need to listen in a different way.  I need to engage in holy listening.

Holy listening is a way of deep listening with love and compassion.  I need to recognize when others are speaking out of their fear, and listen not with my own fear, but in love and compassion.  I need to model a way of listening that is not seeking to strike out, to score points, to win an argument, but listening to understand.  As the mystic Rumi says, “You will learn by reading but you will understand with love.”  I need to listen not to learn so much— my learning needs to come from seeking out facts in order to combat the lack of information or even misinformation in the anger-laden speech— but to understand the one who is speaking.  I need to listen in a way that models love, not hate, for only love can overcome the divisive rhetoric of our public dialogue.  I need to listen in a way that honors the value of each voice, even those voices that are expressing hatred and ideas that I find abhorrent.

I am afraid that I am not always very good at that kind of listening.  I can get caught up in the fear and anxiety, and respond accordingly.  But when I do, I am betraying what I truly believe, that all people are made in God’s image and likeness, and all are inestimable value because they are children of God.  It is times like this that challenge me to live as I claim I believe.

I find that in order to be able to listen to others, particularly in difficult times, I need to spend some time listening to myself, and listening for God.  For me, this is best accomplished in nature.  I need to spend some time simply sitting and listening to what is around me, sounds that do not carry fear, that do not ask me to do something right now, that are simply there.  Rumi says, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”  When I sit for a while in silence, I begin to hear the small sounds, the wind rustling leaves, insects flying around, waves lapping gentle, squirrels chittering, bird singing.   I hear the things that I normally can’t hear when I am feeling overwhelmed, and I find myself relaxing and coming back to myself.  The anxiety drops, the fear lessens, and my hearing with love and gratitude is restored.

It is then that I can return to the frenzy of my everyday world, able to respond more out of love and less out of fear.  For more love and less fear is desperately needed in our world, and at least for me, holy listening is one of the ways in which I am able to live more out of love.

I invite all of you to share practices which help you, in this time of great anxiety in our country, to live and make decisions out of love, not fear.


Contemplative Sight


To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

“Auguries of Innocence,” by William Blake

Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD

I have been finding, more and more, that my photography is a form of contemplative practice.

Of course, there are times when I rush madly around, taking pictures right and left, and those times are not particularly contemplative.  They are no more contemplative than other busy parts of my life.  Photography becomes another task to accomplish, another thing to mark off my “to-do” list.  I also find that those pictures, while often acceptable, are not usually my best pictures.

Photography becomes a contemplative practice for me when I make the time to slow down, and to become present.  I usually begin with looking for the obvious pictures, and I start there.  As I slow down, however, I begin to notice things, details, that I miss in my more hurried photographic  forays.


Best, however, is when I sit in one place and let myself be present there.  In those times, I become see more deeply, and I am much more likely to be surprised by what is around me.  I can marvel at the texture of the rocks, notice how the light from the sun hits the trees, see the insects among the flowers, and watch the wind make ripples in the water.  For me it is a time of simply being a part of the world around me, allowing all of the normal activities and worries of my life slip away until I am at peace with the world around me.


Like any other contemplative practice, sometimes I find it easier to get that place of quiet more easily than at other times.  In times of great stress, I may not be able to get to a place of calm presence.  Even on those days, when I am at my most distracted, however, I return from my contemplative time less stressed, more grounded, better able to face what lies ahead.


Does photography function as a spiritual practice for you?  Feel free to comment and to leave examples of your own photographic work.