Reflections from Our Water Communion 2018

On the first Sunday of the fall season, for as long as most of us can remember, we’ve been celebrating a special ceremony we call the water communion. We use the word communion to simply mean “a sharing, a coming together” to affirm all that connects us to each other once again. It’s a tradition that is practiced by many Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups around the world. We come together from different directions, bringing water that we pour into a communal bowl.

Each congregation does the water communion differently. Here at the Unitarian Church of Montreal, we ritually pour water five separate times to symbolize the range of our summer experiences: our times of rest and renewal; our moments of happiness and joy; our grief and loss; the periods of change and transition, and finally, the experiences that remain unnamed.

It’s beautiful to watch as everyone gets up at different times during the ceremony to pour out water, as Sandra Hunt, our director of music, plays music to reflect each mood. Together, we witness an emotional map of our community. From the youngest child to the oldest adult, we see how many of us have been touched by highs, lows and change over the summer.

Here are two reflections from this year’s water communion by Rev. Diane Rollert, our minister, and Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert, our new song leader and choir director.

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Simple Gifts

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 June 2018

’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,
’tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, 
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.

            — Quaker hymn

There’s a moment in the Hebrew Bible when the prophet Elijah finds himself standing upon a mountain waiting to hear from God. First a strong wind breaks the rocks around him, but God is not in the wind. Then an earthquake comes, but God is not in the earthquake. Then fire comes, but God is not in the fire. Finally, Elijah hears a still, small voice. In that moment, Elijah realizes that God is in the silence.

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I Say Yes! (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev Diane Rollert, 10 June 2018

Sometimes when I explain Unitarian Universalism to people who’ve never heard of us before, they’ll ask, “But if you don’t follow a single scripture like the Bible or the Qur’an, and you don’t put God or Jesus at the centre of your faith, then what makes you different from a social club?”

I often answer that we leave room for each person to find their own path to the holy, and we’re still a religious community. Why? Because we’re focused on more than just the social. We come together in community to search for answers to the most essential questions: How do we live with meaning and purpose? How do we respond to the intimate and the ultimate in our lives?

You might say we’re seeking simplicity. We’re trying to figure out what’s truly essential. How do we make our mark in this life, when we will never know for sure if there is anything beyond this life? Reincarnation, heaven, hell, the great void of nothingness, the returning from dust to dust and ashes to ashes, or the rearrangement of energy into some new beginning. We can have theories about what happens when we die, but all we truly know is what exists here and now in this very moment. That’s the quest that unites us as something more than a people who gather for coffee and conversation. 

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Simplify My Life, Please (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 3 June 2018

​​​​​​​Years ago, when I was a Montessori teacher, there was nothing I loved more than the days at the end of the summer when I would prepare my classroom for the new year. I’d spend hours in silence, carefully preparing materials, and deciding exactly where each activity would be placed on the bare shelves. It was a kind of meditation. When I was done, I could imagine the children inhabiting the space with their excitement and curiosity.

We rented classroom space from a public school that was surrounded by woods and farmland. In September, as the school year began, I’d buy a sunflower from a local farmer. I’d place the big head of the flower on a tray along with a pair of tweezers. I loved watching even the most restless four- and five-year olds mastering the art of using the tweezers to pull out one seed after another from the drying flower head. Time would be suspended as the simple task became everything for that child.

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The Blessing of the Living Goddess

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 13 May 2018

The late John O’Donohue tells a beautiful story in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. (I love this book. If you’re looking for an inspirational text to read each day, this is it.) 

As a young priest O’Donohue was sent to visit a community of nuns who lived in mostly silent contemplation. When he arrived, an old sister opened the door. Knowing that O’Donohue was a new priest, she asked for his very first blessing. She knelt before him and he drew upon every resource he knew “to invoke the most intimate blessing.” 

And then it dawned on him that the situation was incredibly ironic. Here he was blessing a nun who had lived for more than 60 years “contemplating the searing silence and darkness of God,” and she was asking him, a 25-year-old priest, for his blessing. When she stood up, he knelt down before her and asked for her blessing. The sister was utterly taken aback. She mumbled something and practically ran out of the room. No one, certainly not a priest, had ever asked for her blessing before. 

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A Curious Confluence (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 1 April 2018

Easter, Passover, April Fool’s (Poisson d’avril), the first Sunday in a month focused on the theme of curiosity, my very first day back after a three-month sabbatical. I’ve got nothing... You can go home now…  April Fools!

But seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this dream on a Saturday night that I’m standing in some very strange sanctuary and I discover that I’m supposed to preach and I have no manuscript, no notes, no clue about what I’m supposed to say. I stand in terrified silence, desperately searching through random papers. “What do I say? What do I say?” By the time I finally start to speak, everyone has given up and left the sanctuary.

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Creative Passion or Spiritual Practice (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 18 March 2018

Last week our service talked about the many different pathways to creativity. Chloe spoke about how creativity could be a person’s “thing” that dance had become her thing, when she was quite young, and although she had attempted to draw and engage her creativity in different ways, it was always the dancing that kept calling her back. She argued that everyone did not need to have a “thing.” That we all ought to engage the many ways that we can be creative and enjoy the many different possibilities. And when you think about creativity in this way, of have your own special “thing”, it creates this isolation of creativity, that people who are really good at something are the only ones who can be creative. Or perhaps it is that only people who are truly creative are those who have an undying passion, or people who need to be creative, else their passion will over run their lives. Many artists have famously fit into this category – Ludwig Van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and perhaps John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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Pathways to Creativity

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 11 March 2018

The first time I picked up a pair of knitting needles I would have been 9 or 10, and it was my grandmother who taught me how to cast on, knit and purl. But when I went home from that summer vacation I was not able to maintain the process of making knots with strings and sticks. Well I could make knots, but they didn’t look the way they were supposed to and knitting was more frustrating than enjoyable. Although every time I went back to my grandparents’ house, or they came to visit me I would sit down beside my grandma while she made slippers for one of the many people who received them, or perhaps she was knitting cotton dishcloths, and I got swept up in the mesmerizing rhythm of her needles. I would soon be asking for her help once again to learn how to knit.

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In Dreams Begin Responsibility

Reflection by Mark Abley, 4 March 2018

When I was a child, an only child growing up in a small city on the prairies, my father would sometimes appear at the supper table with a pencil behind his ear. His eyes would have an abstracted look. My father would sit down at the table, pick at the food my mother placed before him, and as soon as possible, disappear again.

Or rather, he would disappear from the dining table and walk back into the living room, which is where the piano stood. And soon my mother and I would hear him playing some notes, usually just a simple melody or a short sequence of chords, no more than a bar or two. He was composing. Inside his head, even when he sat down to eat his supper, he was listening to music. Sometimes he didn’t need a piano – he would just take the pencil from behind his ear, and scribble some notes on the back of a used envelope or the previous Sunday’s church bulletin.

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Love and Justice (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 25 February 2018

The Unitarian Church of Calgary, which is my home congregation, has spent the last 6 or 7 years hosting a Service auction, as one of their primary fundraisers. Every year the Minister, Rev. Debra Faulk auctions off a sermon title. This means that the person who bids the highest is allowed to pick the focus of a sermon that she will deliver during the next church year. Sometimes the person would choose a topic that they wanted to share the service with, a topic that they wanted to help create a service about. But others would offer ideas that they wanted to hear Debra’s opinion on, asking her to do the research and share her learnings.  A few years ago the person who won this auction item was Gorham H. Now I have known Gorham since I was 10 or 12 years old, he has been a patriarch of the Calgary Church for several decades, and when I decided to do an internship in the Calgary church I asked Gorham if he would be willing to sit on my intern committee. He is an incredibly endearing, generous man who really cares about his community, and is often in the church garden and the community garden tending to the dehydrated plants during the peak of Alberta’s hot summer months. He would deliver extra produce to the food bank, and teach the children and youth about the composting red wiggler worms. And has the RE community help bring the red worms back inside in the fall, so that they don’t die in the cold compost buckets, and then takes them back out in the spring. 

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The Antidote to Perfectionism (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 18 February 2018

Part 1:

Has there ever been a time when you were free from making mistakes? Perhaps a school paper that you were able to receive 100 percent on? Or a project at work were you were able to execute everything perfectly… Where everything aligned itself just so … that when all was said and done, and you looked back at the process, there was nothing that you would have changed? Have you ever been so satisfied with the results of your efforts that you believed there was no room for improvement?

Yeah, me neither.

And yet there is this concept of perfectionism in our society that constantly calls us to be better, calls us to strive for more, and urges us on to the point of breaking.

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By This We Live (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Nicoline Guerrier, 11 February 2018

Imagine it’s Sunday evening, only a few hours from now.

You and a few others have just finished a delicious meal in a restaurant. Along with the aroma of coffee and perhaps Indian chai, there’s the ever present scent of fresh, hot cooked food. It wafts into the room every time the kitchen door swings open or a smiling waiter walks by carrying plates to neighbouring diners.

The energy in the room is high: along with laughter and all the sounds you’d expect - like ice clinking in glasses, dishes being stacked and removed, and the chatter of excited patrons waiting to be seated - there’s also an unusual amount of interaction between tables. People are introducing themselves to folks they’ve never met before. They’re trading stories and discovering connections. One table is teaching another a song.

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How I Became Unitarian

Carole TenBrink, 4 February 2018

This month’s theme is growth.  All our lives we are growing, growing spiritually into our larger selves. This is true for me.  Inspired by Marc Boucher’s reflection here recently, I’d like to tell you of the long, winding road that led me being a Unitarian, passing thru many way stations…. From Dutch Reformed, to Catholicism, to Buddhism, on to Paganism.  May this reflection stir thoughts of your own religious-spiritual journey.

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The Growth of Humanity (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 14 January 2018

The Growth of humanity. What could that possibly mean? I struggled to describe my concepts to my colleagues as we prepared for this Sunday’s service. 
What is your theme and what are some songs that you think would suit it? What is your take away message? How would you describe this theme to children? 
I felt flustered while attempting to answer each of these questions. How was I supposed to express my sense of disconnect between the growth of a person, and the growth of human kind? That I saw these two concepts as polar opposites to one another, and that I believed that the growth of one, inhibited the growth of the other? 

How do you express that concept in music? Or in a children’s story? Or in a sermon. How do I express my thoughts when they swirl around and are messy on my own head? When I can hardly make sense of them myself? 

Well, I suppose the best way to explain something that is hard for one to express, is to start at the beginning, and take one step at a time. 

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The Pains of Growing (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 14 January 2018

While preparing for this service I watched a TED talks video entitled Why Comfort will ruin your life by Bill Eckstrom, a leadership coach based out of University of Nevada.

Eckstrom describes research that he did on the science of discomfort and growth. After being fired from a job where he had become comfortable and secure in upper management Eckstrom began discerning how discomfort can challenge us to grow or to shrink. His research finds that there are four environments that promote or hinder growth – what he calls growth rings, that run into each other, and overlap one another. The first environment is called stagnation – obviously not much is happening here, people are required to follow certain steps, have certain permissions, and have a consistent repetition in their lives. The last environment is Chaos – and yet again obviously no growth happens here, because there is zero possibility of input or predictability. There is no room for growth because there is no control of outcomes.

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Growing the Space Between

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 7 January 2018

I have been doing theological reflections for much of my life. Although, of course, I would not have called it that. But ever since I was little I have been reflecting on the world, pondering the meaning of things. Trying to decide how people interacted, and why they interacted they way they did, and making connections. Growing up Unitarian Universalist, and being raised by Unitarian Universalists meant that I was always pondering, always questioning and searching for truth. I learned about the Seven Principles, probably before I turned seven. And I was always asked to connect our faith’s principles to everyday reasoning. My parents expected that I would use the principles as a tool when making decisions and I have now relied on this practice for many years. This soon became habit for me. To look for deeper meaning in everything around me. Whether it was for a school assignment, or listening to a music album I would look for more, I would seek deeper understanding. Reminiscing on a conversation I had with my best friend, struggling to remain considerate through my divorce or trying to determine how I was going to move across the country. Every aspect of my life required greater decision making, required that I look to my faith, and the ideals that I proclaimed were important to me. Although I would not have known I was doing it, I have been reflecting on theological concepts since I was a pre-teen.

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Our Most Humble Moments

Reflections by Rev. Diane Rollert and Rev. Lynn Harrison. 26 November 2017

Part I: Rev. Lynn Harrison

When Diane suggested the sermon title of “Our Most Humble Moments” to me, I thought it was a great idea!

It sounded so human and down-to-earth…I loved it. That is, until I started thinking about it, and realized that I’d have to share a story about being humbled…coming to terms with my own flaws or imperfections. Suddenly I was a little less keen on the idea.

Mind you, I am preaching this morning at a congregation other than my own…so, I feel a little more free in sharing with you some of my less-than-stellar moments.  

We all have them of course. Things we’ve said that we wish we could take back… Choices we made that we soon regretted. Over time, if we’re lucky, those moments contribute to our deepening sense of what it means to be human. They help us develop compassion, as we watch other people also learn lessons the hard way. Most of all, they teach us that “inherent worth” is not about never making mistakes. It’s about extending love to ourselves and others, even when—or especially when—we do make mistakes.

So…here’s the story of one of my most humble moments.  

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The Humble Leader (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 12 November 2017

Less than two weeks ago, I was standing before the monument to the Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge, just outside the city of Arras, France. It’s a place beyond words. The monument stands in the middle of 250 acres of open land. Two soaring towers of beautiful gleaming golden-white marble represent the ten thousand English and French Canadian lives lost during the battle at Vimy Ridge, waged between April 9th and 12th, 1917.  The towers are so tall that you get vertigo looking up at them.

Names of the ten thousand dead are carved in alphabetical order around the base of the monument, names of soldiers, most whom their bodies were never individually identified. A few giant allegorical figures are placed strategically around the towers. None of the figures are triumphant. Instead, they represent helplessness, loss, the values that were fought for, a soldier breaking the sword in hopes of peace, angels looking up to the heavens. One female figure stands alone beyond the others, her head bowed in sorrow as she surveys the killing fields below. She’s known as Canada Bereft or Mother Canada, mourning her dead.

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