I used to love this UU annual ritual

UU congregations have very few liturgical traditions. Having come from a Catholic background where there are butt-loads of rituals and traditions I really look forward with much anticipation to our annual water ceremony.

UU flaming chalice w/ holy water in background  photo by julian

UU flaming chalice with holy water in background

For my non-UU readers, the water ceremony summed up is this: It’s a Sunday service held in mid or late August, where everyone in the congregation brings a small amount of water and pours it into a bowl that sets at the front of the sanctuary near the alter. The water has been gathered during the summer (mostly… some gathered throughout the year) while people were away from school obligations, work obligations, kid obligations, parent obligations… just obligations in general. There are readings about the significance of water, a short sermon then everyone goes up to the front, one after another, and as they pour their water in the bowl they describe where the water came from. The bowl has water from last year and from our District water ceremony held earlier in the summer. I could probably write this in a little more detail and try to describe it better but that’s basically it.

I love this ceremony. Always have… ever since I first started attending my church.

But this year, it changed a little for me. Even as I walked up to pour my water in, I kinda had a sick feeling in my throat because The Deistette didn’t want to go and wasn’t there with me.

She’s been wanting to find a new church for several months for a few reasons but mostly because my UU church doesn’t have enough God talk for her. She says it doesn’t feel spiritual enough… that it doesn’t feel like church or much of a religion for that matter. That’s for another post though. Anyway, so that Sunday she was checking out another church for her and The Little Man.

But another reason she didn’t want to go to my church for the water ceremony is because she kinda felt a little embarrassed that the water I was planning to bring (and that she would have too) was from our house. It was from the wheel barrow that collects rain water and condensation from our AC unit and I was going to bring water from our sink. It wasn’t going to be water from some far off place like Alaska, London, New England, The Great Lakes, The Pacific Ocean, The Atlantic Ocean, which we new from hearing from others, would show up.

I’ve heard there’s been an argument made for some time by a small number of UUs about how the water ceremony should be discontinued because it is a passive method of showing economic status.

I never really gave it much thought until this year. I mean, yeah, I heard the argument. I got it. I understood where they were coming from but I felt like this was reaching and if they felt that way it was something they needed to get over.

After all I never let myself feel bad. Over the years I never really thought about how low-brow it must be for me to bring water from such underwhelming places as my backyard which is a home to some wonderful things like the magnolia tree I was given for father’s day one year and where my little dog’s grave is.

And this year, certainly, my fellow church-goers didn’t look down on me because I brought my water in a jelly jar and it was from the condensation of my vehicle. I mean I went without AC for two months in the hottest part of this year’s summer. So when I got it fixed I was quite thankful that my vehicle was “making” water again. I also described the water also symbolized tears, and fears and joy experienced since the last water ceremony. So for me this water was special.


I remember one year one of our members described how she and her kids went to Europe that summer. I don’t know… a couple of years ago I thought it was pretty cool that she could afford to take her family to such a cool place. But now as the state of the economy and other events has placed me more on the side of the “have nots”, (where as before I was straddling precariously over the fence of the “haves” and “have nots”), it doesn’t seem so cool. In fact it seems kinda crappy to bring to church descriptions of water from amazing adventures in far off lands and pouring them into the faces of fellow church members.

001I hate that this tradition from my church that I once revered has switched in my mind and I wonder over the years how many members sat in their seat waiting their turn to pour their backyard water into our bowl and squirmed as they heard descriptions of places they know they will never see. I hate that I dismissed the argument as something they needed to get over and I feel like an ass for it.

I hate that this once loved tradition has changed for me.

I never squirmed in my seat…

not till this year. I guess ignorance is bliss.

3 responses to “I used to love this UU annual ritual

  1. Really interesting post, Jules. I would be cringing too at the far off places and the contrast. I wouldn’t want to cringe, but I know I would. I hate it when progressive types get caught up in the *aren’t I interesting?* game. I notice it a lot in my neck of the woods. There’s less humility than there should be. Maybe that is just me on the outside looking in, since I have not been involved with a formal spiritual group in a while (though looking at forming one w/ some friends).
    Although, I have stuff going on, so maybe taking myself to a UU Church would help get me grounded.
    How did I end up blogging in your comments? I’m certainly not keeping up w/ my own blog.
    Thanks for the deep thoughts, sir!

  2. I’m really sorry to hear the Deistette is uncomfortable with the UU church; that’s a shame.

    For me, it was almost the reverse. So much of my beliefs are caught up in nature and I didn’t care for a lot of the philosophizing in the church.

    Maybe you can get a sense from the minister when the sermons might have more god talk, and she can join you then? I feel for you here, Jules.

    Also, people aren’t going to stop being aware of economic status just because the water ceremony ends. Status-awareness is intrinsic to our natures. People should lighten up! I think you should have your own water ceremony, if they stop theirs.

  3. Interesting post. I had never heard of that ritual before. I think it sounds pretty cool. I can see why you liked it. But, I have to agree with Ombuds here, I think it’s in people’s nature to be proud of the things they have done and the places they have been. They might not even be aware that it comes off as bragging. It might just be their way of trying to share their good fortune with others. Who knows their motivation? Even though it may be hard to go back to your innocent mind, it may be worth it since you were able to focus on their good fortune, and less on your own lack of it and were happier for it.

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