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.
Rest and Renewal: Water Heal My Body, Water Heal My Soul
Rev. Diane Rollert, 9 September 2018
My friend Rod is my husband David’s best friend from childhood. They’ve known each other since they were ten years old. Rod is a professor of geology in the southwestern US. For years he’s been taking students and fellow researchers on boat trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to do geological research. It’s been his passion.
Then, two years ago, he and many of his fellow travellers got some sort of food poisoning while they were down in the canyon. Rod was the oldest in the group, and while everyone else recovered, he didn’t. By the time he got home, he had started to lose his ability to move. By the time he was taken to the hospital, he was paralyzed from his neck down. He was diagnosed with a rare illness called Guillain Barré Syndrome. No one knew if he’d ever be able to walk again.
For two years, his life was all about fighting for recovery. In the beginning, his wife taught herself how to read lips so that she could translate what Rod was saying to his doctors. Eventually, Rod learned how to speak again, how to feed himself again. They put him in a special exoskeleton so that he could learn how to walk again. Rod, to everyone’s amazement, recovered and started to walk on his own.
So, to celebrate, he and his wife Eve, David, and I decided we would meet in Italy this summer to travel in Tuscany for a week. It was Rod’s first time travelling since his illness. When I started to book places to stay, his wife had to remind us, “Please, not too many stairs.” This would be their first trip to Italy, a place David and I know well because that’s where much of David’s
mom’s family still lives. There were so many favourite sites that we wanted to share during this trip, but we were worried that it might be too challenging for Rod.
Tuscany gets very hot and dry in July, although apparently it was bizarrely hotter here in Montreal! There’s lots of open space where the sun beats down mercilessly. Sometimes it was hard to find a shady spot to rest, but Rod was the first one to push on, walking kilometre after kilometre to see as much as he could. We’d offer to take buses, or call a taxi, but he’d say, “No. Let’s keep going.” So on we’d go, all of us matching his slow but deliberate pace.
Since his illness, Rod kind of walks like an old cowboy who’s ridden way too many horses. One day two young Italian women pointed to him and said, “Guarda! Un cowboy!” (Look! A cowboy!) To which he tipped his straw hat and said the only thing he knew to say in Italian, “Si! sono un cowboy!” (Yep, I’m a cowboy!)
One day, in the town of Montalcino, after trudging for a long time in the hot sun, we stopped to take a rest to drink some water in a small cafe housed in the courtyard of a very old villa. A plaque on the wall described an historic moment in the 15th century when the French invaded Montalcino and used the villa to house soldiers. (Of course, I may have the date wrong!) As we sat there contemplating the history, the cafe sound system was blasting the old rock and roll song “Let’s Twist Again.” You know, by Chubby Checker? (Let’s twist again, like we did last summer…)
Rod and I decided this was the perfect sound track for a movie that would tell the story of the French invasion — from the perspective of the townspeople, of course— complete with a romantic subplot and a meddling town priest, culminating in a glorious final scene, with everyone, soldiers and townspeople in ornate 15th-century costumes, all twisting to Chubby Checker…
….You had to have been there.
Rod and I laughed so hard as we planned the crowdfunding we’d need to get this film project off the ground. (We’ll take money in exchange for shares!) We thought we were so brilliant. David and Eve looked at us as if we were crazy.
But that was a moment of rest and renewal for me; a moment to slow down long enough to find the space to be silly and creative, to be with a dear friend who was recovering before our eyes.
A simple glass of water heals the body, just as friendship heals the soul.
Transition and Change: My Time as a Bear
Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert, 9 September 2018
So many stories live inside of us. Luminous, pushing at the edges of our consciousness, spilling out into our daily lives, big as creatures of the deep sea, vast as the night's sky, bright as the stars.
This summer I was blessed to live many long-standing dreams, and suffered deep heartache which blinded me to the beauty before me while it lasted. In order for it to lift I felt I needed a sort of rite of passage, a resourcing, grounding, transformative experience.
That's how I found myself packing a fuzzy black onesie, a bear head and face paint along with some musical instruments and camping gear into my backpack while shaking my head in disbelief that this was actually happening.
I had decided this was the year I would participate in R. Murray Schafer's “Wolf Project,” a week-long immersive interdisciplinary arts experience in the woods, in which all attendees must participate and perform. There is no audience besides the wise pines, dark waters, jagged cliffs and open sky.
Each participant had to choose an animal clan that spoke to them. I chose the bear. Something about the big lumbering beasts that go into a deep sleep, connect to the dream world and emerge reborn in the spring really spoke to me. That's what I needed, a rebirth.
The journey there was long and challenging. We drove for a day and canoed for quite some time before arriving deep in the Haliburton Forest, just south of Algonquin Park.
I met the 20 or so other participants in the project and got to work lugging our gear and food for the week up the cliff face, then setting up our tents.
After we had settled in and eaten, our day ended, as I would find out all days would, with a nocturne, in which musicians, often soloists, paddled into the middle of the lake or sang and played from the cliffs, their haunting sounds resounding off the rock and water in a magical, surreal way.
During one such soliloquy I offered up, I sang from the cliffs a high lilting improvisation, singing bowls ringing in my hands. I could see the music drifting from my soul to the dark surface of the lake, then pushing up to the starry sky, where there appeared a shooting star, then another, and another, maybe eight in total, in quick succession, the brightest I've ever seen. It felt like my song was speaking to the stars, lighting them up, and they shone brightly back in encouragement.
Another time a lone saxophone player paused between phrases and a pack of wolves responded with their haunting howls in return.
On the last night they lit a fire sculpture on the water, in the shape of a phoenix, and an opera singer belted out a night aria from a canoe that was slowly paddled away. We could hear her for miles, her voice getting softer until we were watching the flames light up the mist on the water in silence.
These experiences changed me deeply. Helped me forget my wounded heart and the sorrow I had lived. The person who emerged was stronger, more connected to her deepest, wildest sense of
self, and reminded that if one can remain open to it, the world is so much bigger than any one of us; it's full to overflowing with adventure, insight, and deep connection.
So many stories live inside of us. Luminous, pushing at the edges of our consciousness, spilling out into our daily lives, big as sea monsters, vast as the night's sky, bright as the stars