To Re-establish Kinship
As pastor of a California congregation whose commitment was to the development of a paradigm for multi-generational worship, the challenge for me was to honor the traditional practices of the church while at the same time redesigning the elements of the ritual in such a way that any one, of any age – of any faith or no faith for that matter – could participate with integrity.
We had good story tellers, actors, and artists in the congregation, of all ages, and so the dramatization of the scriptural stories along with the liturgical art to accompany them unfolded with relative ease. More difficult was the worship piece called the Confession of Sin. How it appears in the Book of Common Prayer is as a long, very long, string of words, with no silences for thinking about the many things “done and left undone”.
An idea slithered its way into an afternoon alpha state – I was lying on the floor of my office; it had to do with partnering river stones with running water. Of the many scriptural stories of rocks and water, I chose three: the discovery by the Israelites in the desert that if they were to strike the rock at Meribah, water would flow; the rocks placed across the Jordan River by the twelve tribes which became the path into the Promised Land; and the convert Paul referring to the risen Christ as Rock.
At the appropriate time, each member of the congregation was invited to choose a stone from the basket, weaving its way down the aisle by the efforts of a couple of the youngest. I asked the people to hold onto their rock; think about the things they had done that they wished they hadn’t; the things they hadn’t done that they wished they had; and to lift those regrets from their hearts and place them on the rocks. The same children then gathered the rocks, brought them forward, and with words of compassion and forgiveness, I poured water over the rocks and into the baptismal font. Regrets named, promises made, regrets released, and washed away, a new heart given. Although I imagine I did mention God from time to time, I didn’t have to. Rock and water were enough.
During a Reiki session one evening, I described the ritual to the body worker as she stood over me, and her reaction both surprised and disturbed me. “You lay your sins and regrets on the rocks and expect them to carry your burdens? Did you ask them? Don’t you think that’s a little unfair?”
I had no answer at the time, and although I thought about it in a guilty kind of way for quite some time, I finally relinquished the concern and thus yielded to the power of the ritual. Rock and water.
Frederique Apffel-Marglin reminds us that before the beginnings of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century, we lived in diverse communities of other-than-humans, with a lively host of spirits – of trees, of waters, of creatures – spirits who teased us, played with us, chastised us, educated us, communicated with us, all as they accompanied us on our earthly journeys.
In Subversive Spiritualities she writes, “The beings of this world taught us . . . they had reasons for existing, their own requirements, and their own agency. We needed to ask permission, to share, to give back, and to give thanks.” (p 3-4)
I find now that I am revisiting the angry words of my Reiki master. I still don’t appreciate the aggressive manner in which she asked her questions, yet there was fodder enough in her thinking to accompany me for more than twenty years.
Thomas Berry arrived in my life during those twenty years, in the form of books, recordings, and interviews. In a conversation with Caroline Webb, Berry insists, “Every being has rights. Every being, to exist . . . has three rights: the right to be; the right to habitat; and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence.”
So, what is the role of a rock? Maybe I should ask the question differently. Does a rock have a spiritual role? Likewise, what might be the spiritual role of water?
Because the refrain “the waters of grief” keeps looping in my heart, and I am thinking about eco-justice and rocks and yearning and grief and water and release and rebirth. This is a new day for new ritual, and, as Robin Kimmerer and Frederique Apffel-Marglin and Jeanette Armstrong and so many others remind us, it’s a time for permission, for sharing, for reciprocity, for mindfulness, and for gratitude. God or no God, it doesn’t matter; it is time, way past time, to know that the Holy Land lies under our very feet. How are we going to learn to honor and celebrate that?
That is kinship. It lies deep in our human memory and in the memory of everything that has life.