Water & Words of Eternal Life

“Water & Words of Eternal Life”

A Message Offered by Rev. Tanya Barnett (Disciples of Christ) On Sunday, August 23, 2015

John 6:56-69

Alleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Well, you can go to lots of places: to the mall, to the movies, to our IPads, to a friend’s house… but you have chosen to be here.

Please picture this: we have chosen to come together for this thing called “Water & Soul” – or at least your parents have chosen this for us; in any case, we’re choosing to be here now.

Please picture yourself: it’s Monday morning — kind of early for one of our last days of summer vacation, and we’re here at in the parking lot at Finnriver Farm about to go off and find a little trickle of water known as Chimacum Creek. Maybe you know one or two people in this new group of 20 middle schoolers – but it’s still uncomfortable. This group has never come together before – maybe people will think you’re weird… maybe everyone already knows everyone else… maybe these other kids are going will shut you out… maybe that church lady is going to ask or say something that makes us feel really uncomfortable.

And then she does say something: about being around water and in water this week – that sounds okay. Then (and you’ve only been here for like 5 minutes) she says about our souls. Here we go. She says, “during this week, when I talk about the word ‘soul,’ here’s what I mean: I’m talking about that enduring, truly sacred part of ourselves that is inherently life-giving and unique to each and every one of us. Where here to get to know that part of ourselves more fully.” We’ll that wasn’t so painful… let’s see how this week goes.

It turns out that each day, there’s a new question that she’s going to ask us – a [quotes] “soul-ful question to help center our day together.” Whatever that means… anyways, that first day, after we finally bushwhack our way to the creek, she asks you this question: “What is home for you?” It’s really funny and interesting to hear how other kids answer: “in my bed with my cat,” “wherever my friends are,” “right here at Chimacum Creek,” “in a comfy chair

right in front of my fridge.” These kids are pretty cool – the grown-ups are pretty weird, but the kids are okay. And it is good to think about the things and people that matter most to us.

The church lady, some people from the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, and an “elder” guy named Tom Jay talk throughout the day about a Greek word – “oikos” – like the Greek yogurt. It means “home” or household. They talk about the creek as being the sacred oikos, or home, of the salmon in our area – apparently, we’re in their sacred home today. The word lies at the root of other words like “ecology” (which means something about getting to know the house in which we live) and “economics” (which means “house rules”). You listen as the church lady lays down the “house rules” for our week together: it’s a “golden rule” from her faith tradition and about a million faith traditions that says something like: “however you want others to treat you, that’s how you should treat them.” She encourages us to think about “others” not just as the humans around us, but other people and other creatures as well. She’s weird, but okay.

You spend the day getting lost along the creek, fighting back branches and avoiding nettles, and then you come to an open field of reed-canary grass. It’s a weed here and it’s choking out the plants that need to be in the salmon’s creek-side home. This is a problem. So what do we do? Well, some of us start stomping on it (after all, the salmon coalition guy said we should); then other kids start throwing their whole bodies on it – flipping all over the place, diving into it! It’s crazy! There’s cardboard and duct tape and one of the grown-ups is drumming and singing, and pretty soon, there’s a crazy dance party and you’re making some sort of weed-crushing, cardboard contraption to crush as much grass as you can. Everyone’s being crazy – we’re all hot and sweaty and laughing our faces off!! We’re goofing and making a better home for the salmon. Home. Oikos, home, that’s a good word.

Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Day two. It feels even earlier today than yesterday. We’re down at the mouth of Chimacum Creek now – down at Irondale Beach in Port Hadlock. We’re choosing to come back after that crazy first day. Canoes and kayaks are lined up and ready to go… really ready… but the church lady has another question to ask – another “soulful word of the day” to help “center” us. Here’s the question: “What was the biggest change you’ve ever experienced?” Some kids

talk about changing schools and moving town, one girl talks about her grandma dying, one girl says “when I was born” (whoa, she’d cool), one guy talks about his parents’ divorce. We start to wonder: can’t we just get in the boats now? This is getting heavy. …The church lady talks about the word “trans-formation” – going from one “form” over to another – one place of being over to another. She talks about “rites of passage” and how that, in this place – where the freshwater meets the saltwater – the salmon go through a rite of passage: from young fish, to more mature fish. Kind of like kids going through a bar or a bat mitzvah. We talk about the things that the salmon most need as they make this transformation – what they need as they cross over an invisible threshold from being “kid” fish to “adult” fish. Turns out they need lots of things – just like we do when we’re going through changes in our lives: food, clean air and water, safe space and the absence of predators, each other. Okay, that was actually a good conversation – but we’re really ready to be in the water!

So, let’s paddle – or let’s try to paddle. We work with the other people in our boat, and the boat is still going all over the place – who’s steering?? Where are we going? The headwinds here in Port Townsend Bay are so strong – and it’s really hard to paddle; this is actually a little bit scary! Then all of the sudden, everything gets calm: we’re at the mouth of the creek – that sacred, in- between space for the salmon, and for us. We hear kingfishers and watch what seems like juvenile salmon shimmering through the water. Leap… splash! Did you see that? That silver flash? Was that a fish? This does seem like a safe, sacred space. You rest, you listen, you watch. Then, the group heads back out into windy bay and paddles a bit further north towards Kala Point. The rest of the day is pretty crazy – lots of splashing in the water, struggling through muddy muck, skimming sand-dollars along the shore, laughing, running! It’s all so fun… but at the end of the long, tired day, it’s that calm place of transformation we remember the most. And that word: transformation. It really is a deeply soul-ful word.

Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Day three. Like salmon going out to the Sound and Straits, we find ourselves near Fort Warden, on the beach with new people from the PT Marine Science Center. Okay, we’re ready for the question of the day! You’re a pro at this now! Here it is, “Describe your favorite meal?” That’s a bit odd, but whatever. “Thanksgiving with at my grandparents,” “Pad Thai,” “A meal over a campfire

after a really long canoe trip.” The church lady reminds us of the old saying, “You are what you eat” – she thinks it’s really true. She reads a quote from an Episcopal Priest named Carla Valentine Pryne: “When we eat, we not only take into ourselves another being, but that being becomes part of us, those molecules become part of our human tissue. The metaphor for food here is less that of fuel than that of communion.” She describes what “communion” is like in her faith tradition (something about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood)… yeah, whatever. But then she says to keep in mind throughout the day, that the food we need to survive – whether we’re salmon, or gorillas, or humans – we’re all we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. (At least that’s what some farmer named Wendell Berry thinks.) …Then we spend the first part of the day looking at the basic elements of life through microscopes: intricate, marvelous, mysterious plankton… how can such little things actually survive? We spend the afternoon with the starfish and sea anemones and other invertebrates in their “touch tanks.” Amazing! How can such tiny creatures form the very foundation of the food web that we’re part of? How am I connected to plankton, or a fly, or a sea cucumber? How could such small things matter so much? It’s a mystery, and we’re all living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. Maybe the word communion has something to do with this mysterious connection on which our lives depend completely. Communion… that’s a good word too.

Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Day four: we’re back at the Science Center and the question du jour is: “what is your community?” Someone says, “my soccer team,” someone else says, “my community is PT,” and someone else says “my community is wherever I can be in the water.” Then the church lady talks about a Rabbi – a Jewish teacher – named Abraham Issac Cook and about something he called the “4- fold-song.” She talks a lot… but she practically begs us to listen just for a few minutes because the story is really important to her. “Rabbi Cook,” she says, “believed that everyone’s life is ultimately a song that he or she sings.”

Some people sing the first song: song of the self alone…
Second song: song of the people (who look, talk, act, believe, etc.) like us… Third song: song of all humankind – a kinship among all
Fourth song: song of all creation… where the song of the self, the song of the people, the song of all humankind, and the song of all creation, merge together

at all times. Rabbi Cook believed that this four-fold song is the one that our world most needs right now. This is the song our lives should be singing.

So we spend the day looking at diverse members of the community of life that that surrounds the salmon as they journey through this place. We get really good at identifying fish and then later we work together to pull in a huge seining net – teeming with so many creatures. We study the creatures – sticklebacks, sculpin, red rock crabs, spider crabs – in a kiddie pool then we bring them carefully, one by one, back into the water. We sing to them as they leave: “shalom my friends . . . we’ll see you again.” Maybe that’s kind of like singing Rabbi Cook’s four-fold song of community. Community – that word has a lot of life in it.

Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Day five: our last day together. We’re back at the marine science center and we’re more than ready to do what we’ve been waiting for all week long: to put on wetsuits and snorkel gear and get in the water and actually get to be part of these salmon-y waters! First, we have to do our opening circle and centering question. And the question is: “What is your greatest hope as you move forward?” To snorkel!!! Announce most kids – and then the deeper responses: hope that small plankton and other creatures we’ve been getting to know will survive ocean acidification; hope that salmon can out-smart their predators; hope that the water will get cleaner; hope that our species might be evolving to be more compassionate; hope that we can all appreciate better the Holy, mysteries of life wherever we are. Hope… that’s a good word.

Home. Transformation. Communion. Community. Hope. These are some of the words of eternal life. As Christ’s body in and for the world, let us savor these words together… let us embody these words within and beyond the bounds of our own homes and communities. Let us be a word for Jesus in a world that’s wondering, “Lord, to whom can we go?”