Sacred Water in the Columbia Gorge
by Nancy Corson Carter
The concept of “Sacred Water” has rarely been so vivid in my experience as when I attended the PEC national conference “Blessing the Waters of life: Justice and Healing for Our Watersheds” September 24 -29, 2017, at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center, Corbett, Oregon.
Two of my photos illustrate:
PHOTO ONE: Facing east, we look from Menucha’s high vantage over the lower Columbia Gorge which symbolizes the rich history as well as current problems of Indigenous peoples living there.
During a pre-conference option, “Spirit of the Salmon: Water, Culture, and Justice in the Columbia Watershed,” we learned of the spiritual crisis of present-day tribal peoples, from representatives of the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce. These are survivors of those who have lived in the Columbia River Basin for 10,000s of years. But now the industrialization of American life, specifically the hydroelectric dams built without their consent, has stripped away their culture as well as their livelihood. “We are the water” they assert; “this land is part of our bodies and our spirit as we are linked with the salmon”—now reduced to about 1% of their historical abundance. They shared with us their grief over broken treaties and lost lifeways but also their spirit to survive with efforts to keep their languages and traditions alive with new generations. We gratefully received the hospitality of a meal in the longhouse, their church, and being led in a ceremony on the shore of the Columbia to “purify all the waters of Creation.”
Their elders warned us that all humans are suffering a sickness, and we must have the courage to go from overweening focus on the mind to listening to our hearts, which are in touch with the divine. This struck us with greater and greater power as we learned of the terrible ways that the Doctrine of Discovery was taken as a license to exploit native people and their lands by the 15th century Christian European explorers—with lingering scars. One elder’s wisdom: “Interconnectedness could change the world, especially as we have very little time left to change!”
PHOTO TWO: This shows one of the several springs at Menucha that invite contemplation of the resources of our faith for peace and healing. “Menucha” is a word from Hebrew that suggests “rebuilding,” “restoring, “renewing” and the word “still” as in Psalm 23, “He leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul.”
In the following part of the conference, filled with workshops and various panels and speakers, Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing explored sacred waters with us from her work with Revelation and other biblical texts. The waters in the Bible bless and heal us she said, and they also symbolize injustices of the world. She reminded us that in Genesis “God saw that it was good” and our role is to follow God’s seeing such goodness and beauty (Hebrew tob) in the planet daily. We can let this seeing lead us to love the poor, future generations, and nature itself.
The photo of one of the four or five small Menucha springs reminds us of the gift of having places and times to enter into the practice of opening our hearts to God’s guidance, of listening to “the still small voice.”
Following these thoughts, the worship committee prepared hand-outs for anyone to use if they chose to spend some quiet contemplative time by one of these spring-pools during the conference. We selected five of the many sonnets in Guite’s book to emphasize the presence of “sacred water” in Christ’s life, and we added scriptures to amplify his beautiful work.
MEDITATIONS ON CHRIST’S LIFE IN WATER & WORD
These five meditations selected generally follow the life of Christ, beginning with his baptism and ending with a vision of the resurrection dawn. They were chosen from the evocative sonnets of Malcolm Guite. Guite, a poet, priest, and singer-songwriter, generously shared these five sonnets to copy in full (sorry not to copy them all here; the book is still in print) from his collection, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012). This text includes several helpful appendices which include scriptural references, bibliography, and a short essay on The Sonnets and Liturgy.
The Baptism of Christ
The Miracle at Cana
John 4.13-14 (Jesus and the Woman of Samaria as corollary)
The Call of the Disciples
O Oriens [O Radiant Dawn]