Poured Together or Blown Apart

© Jeremy D. Nickel 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
September 11, 2011

Listen to an Audio Version of Whole Service (mp3)

When I have worked up a good thirst, and take a big gulp of water it feels like the cleanest and purest taste there is. And on one hand it is, since most water we drink has been through both natural and human engineered processes to filter it before it reaches our mouths. But on the other hand, your mouth is hardly the first place that water has been. Besides, waters journey through drains, down pipes, along rivers, up streams, around oceans, into the clouds, down again as rain drops, suspended in ice, there is also a good chance you are not even the first creature to drink those molecules of water.

You see, earth is like a terrarium, one of those glass-walled environments many of us have seen in a science classroom or even had in our homes. That is, earth is a closed system, and every drop of water we have has been with us for roughly 4.6 billion years and just continues to be recycled, so it is not impossible to believe that you have shared a drink with Genghis Kahn, or Elvis, or Einstein.

Water is, besides birth and death, the thread that connects us all. Not only would organic life not exist without it in the first place, but it likewise does not last long when it is withheld. Our bodies are between 55 and 70 percent water, and that gentle balance, a reminder of our oceanic beginning contained within each of us, is extremely important to maintain. Water provides us with an incredible illustration of what true unity is, when one molecule of water seamlessly unites with others as they are poured together. That kind of perfect unity is a high bar for us complicated and multifaceted creatures, but imagine, if just for a minute, we human beings were made aware that we are in actuality every bit as connected as those molecules of water.

That is one of the main reasons we use water in this ceremony every year: in order to remind us of the truth of our connectedness. This pouring together of our hopes and dreams, of our sorrows and pains, of our unspoken truths, and the aspirations we wear on our sleeves, is a reminder that we are in this together. It is also a reminder that, like the water we pour together, we also come from many different sources, yet still choose to be in community with each other. We choose to once again be poured together into this vessel we call Mission Peak. We UUs see our differences as a source of strength, rather than as a weakness, and that makes us very counterculture.

And it also makes us very important, because our world desperately needs this reminder. Every once in a while, the curtain of illusion blows back for but a moment and we are all in touch with this truth, but it is all too rare and fleeting. For many, September 11, 2001 was just such moment. That was certainly the emotion I was most struck by on that clear blue sky day. I remember it very clearly. After finally ripping myself away from the misery being repeated ad nauseum on the television that morning, of our innocence being blown apart by airplanes streaming through the sky, my roommate and I went out to take a walk. We had both just moved to Berkeley. Having arrived from the east coast less than 10 days earlier we felt light-years away from the friends and family we had just left behind in Boston, New York City, and D.C.

Unable to reach anyone by phone or email, we felt beyond disconnected; we felt hopeless and scared and utterly alone. But within minutes of leaving our apartment that feeling began to change. As we walked up University Ave and headed towards Cal campus I began to feel something I had never experienced before: Eye contact. From everyone. Every single person who passed us on the street looked us right in the eyes. And it was the warmest connection with strangers I had ever felt. It was obvious to me what those eyes were meant to communicate. No words were necessary. I read them loud and clear: "I know we are in this together," they said.

And for one amazing week, under airplaneless skies, I truly felt that. I felt connected not just to my family and friends, but to so many millions of other people. And I thought, what an incredible moment in history, what a positive and wonderful place to work from. In that moment, anything seemed possible. Please, I pleaded with the universe, may there be someone, somewhere who can help us build on this connection, some great orator who can remind us that it is not merely with our fellow Americans that we are connected, but with all of creation. We needed a great poet or spiritual leader who would remind us that we now lived in a time when the illusion of isolation was fully exposed and the truth of the interconnected web was the reality of the future.

But as we all know, this was not the message we were told by our leaders. Far from ever being asked to examine our own selves, instead of being required to make a sacrifice for the betterment of all, we were told to...go shopping. We were told to warm up our credit cards and to empty our saving accounts, because it was essential to save our economy; our souls would be left for another time. Then, shortly thereafter, we were told to support a war or else our very patriotism would be questioned. So instead of being poured together, we were once again blown apart. Like a flower that blooms once or twice in a human lifetime, the spirit of connectedness and possibility that lay dormant within us all once again withered away and disappeared below the surface.

But hope did not die that day. It still hibernates within every man, woman and child. I strongly believe that within all of life lives the natural yearning to love and to be loved, to see the other in our own hearts, to make reassuring eye contact with perfect strangers on the street. And that is exactly why what we do here every Sunday matters. Because, unfortunately, there is no great leader who will move this world towards the truth of our connection. There is no one single person who can change the trajectory of 6 billion humans. Rather we must each wake up to this truth and, by living within this reality, we must help others wake up to it as well. It is up to us. It is our voices that must be raised, our bodies that must stand on the front lines of this struggle.

And that is why we return once again to our annual water communion. In this ritual we seek to counter the forces that would seek to divide us; to call to that restless force within us that, when awakened, is as unstoppable as water. We once again pour together our very beings as we struggle to defy all that would blow as apart.

May it be so. Ashe.

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