Grief is a sacred journey

Blessing the Water, Blessing our Life

DSC03007A small group of women and men gathers at the south end of Seneca Lake for a sacred water ritual of gratitude and protection. I wrap a Tibetan yak wool blanket over my winter coat. It’s 15 degrees and the north wind howls. It’s a crazy day to visit the lake shore but we can’t wait for warm weather.

The gas industry has plans to store LPG gas in empty salt caverns under and around Seneca Lake. Will the caverns leak? Of course. Will there be explosions? Probably. Will this turn our beautiful tourist and agricultural region into an industrial hub? Without a doubt. Permits haven’t been granted, but the industry has money and political connections. So I show up for protests locally and in the state capital. This monthly water ritual brings a spiritual perspective to the frustrating political struggle.

DSC02996Near the shore, a copper bucket of ice-crusted lake water sits on a red cloth on the ground. A slender woman dressed in winter layers lights a sage bundle with the reverence of a priestess. She blows the smoldering flames and waves the dark smoke over us with her free hand. I cup the smoke in my palms and pull it to my face, breathing in the acrid herb. I turn my back and pick up first one foot, then the other, purified from my soles to my crown.

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Canadian geese keep watch

We each take a small handful of loose tobaccoo and walk toward the lake. Ice boulders line the shore on a thin peninsula of land. Wintering Canadian geese honk and grumble, waddle across the thin ice crust, and slide toward open water.

I crouch and throw the tobacco toward the lake. It swirls in the wind and catches on ice and on my blanket. Ga nun da sa ga  Te car ne o di, I whisper. This prayer in the Seneca language sends my gratitude to the lake in the hills. Local legend says the lake loves to hear her name in the language of the people who once lived here.

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Staying warm

We gather in a small circle. There are usually more people, but today just over a dozen because of the weather. We sing an Ojibwe water blessing song with hopeful hearts, butchered pronunciation, and shaky melody.

Ne-be Gee zah-gay-e-goo
Gee Me-gwetch-wayn ne-me-goo
Gee Zah Wayn ne-mego.

Water, we love you.
We thank you.
We respect you.

DSC03012As we sing, we pass the sacred vessel around the circle, inwardly asking the water to forgive our neglect. I grab the cold handle of the bucket from my neighbor and pass it along. It moves as we sing the song three times. The woman holding the bucket when the song ends carries it to the lake. She holds the vessel to the sky and pauses with upstretched arms. Then she flings the water back to Mother Lake, blessing Her with song and sanctified water.

The water blessing ritual comes through Sharon Day, the Mississippi River Walker who organized a water blessing walk from the Itasca Minnesota headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Sharon, an Ojibwe elder, organizes prayer walks and water rituals throughout the continent. In November 2013, this small fierce woman drove from Minnesota to teach the ritual here and lead an 80 mile relay walk around Seneca Lake. Local women who organized the walk with Sharon lead this monthly gathering to carry the prayers and intention forward. Everyone is welcome.

Sharon Day, October 2014

Sharon Day, October 2014

With only a small red cloth, a water bucket, tobacco, and a song, we renew our commitment to the clean water that makes life possible. We strengthen our connection to each other, the lake, and this work. The ritual reminds me that protecting Seneca Lake is my sacred duty.

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I hope you enjoy The Copper Vessel: Prayer Walk for a Gas Free Seneca about the October 2013 four-day ritual. This brief water blessing ritual is held the second Sunday each month at the south end of Seneca Lake from 2 – 2:30 p.m., Clute Park, Watkins Glen, NY. I’m grateful to the dedicated women who keep the ritual alive, to Sharon Day for teaching the ritual, and to Faith Muirhead for helping me with accurate details. I’m also grateful to Gas Free Seneca for years of dedicated leadership and to Earthjustice for providing legal support for our cause. May we all remember to protect our water.

18 Comments
  1. Thank you for raising your voice in a positive way & getting the word out that the earth & it’s guardians can only take so much.

    • It’s a satisfying thing to do, Lisa. It brings me into relationship with the sacredness of the earth and her gifts. It also balances the hard-edged political side of the issue.

      • Thank you so much for sharing this precious event so beautifully. As you say, it brings relationship with the sacredness of the earth and all her gifts.

        • I hope you will join us sometime, Jane Marie, and bring friends. Adding the sacred helps me understand what I’m doing at polarized political meetings or when writing a letter to express my disbelief about our harmful actions toward the Earth. Remembering the gift of life helps me do the work with a clear focus and leave my anger at home. Thanks so much for your comment and for the work you and your family do.

  2. Thank you for capturing this prayer so poetically. But most of all, thank you for showing up and participating.

    • It is an honor. I’m quite deaf, Margie, so writing about it is a way I can support clean water and raise awareness about what’s happening at Seneca Lake. Will try to place a version of this in regional newspapers. Blessings.

  3. What a meaningful ceremony. I think we Americans take our water for granted. Keep fighting for what you believe in.

    • Yup, turn on the tap. I just read a serious, scientifically-based article in the New Yorker about herbicide contamination in the water disrupting the endocrine system. This has been suspected for years, but now there is no doubt. We depend on clean water, and I love this beautiful Lake in the Valley. I live three miles east and uphill of the lake, so my sunset photos look out over the lake valley. Thanks for your comment, Kathleen.

  4. Just beautiful.. I see your comments when I get Yvonne’s or GFS’s postings, and have admired you from afar.. It is so comforting for someone deeply connected to the lake and the area, but who lives so far away now, to know that such dedicated, good souls are taking care of the lake and are fighting so courageously to fight off its enemies. Thank you.

    • Dear Evelyn,
      Your message is a great start to my morning. No one could be more dedicated than Yvonne and Joseph. I’m honored to be part of the growing movement to protect Seneca Lake and other beautiful places on this planet. I’m glad my post brought you positive messages from the Finger Lakes–including ice, snow and wind.
      Thank you for reading my piece and responding with kindness,
      Elaine

  5. Thank you, Elaine. This is such important work, reaching back to the fundamentals of our relationship with water. The ceremony is all the more beautiful and meaningful for the precarious wind, ice and snow in which it is performed.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Dwain. I just spoke with a friend from southern California who spoke about the alarming drought there and lack of snow in the mountains to replenish the aquifers, water crops, or take care of human needs. Water is a great symbol for Life. We know that when there is no water or no clean water. This ritual is a snap compared to your ritual–half an hour at most, moving around and standing outside. Makes it all possible in this wind winter. I miss the longer meditations and look forward to spring–as we all do on a day like this.

  6. This is such a lovely and powerful thing to do. I hope I will be able to join you soon. Our water is so precious.

    • Thanks for your comment, Judith. Maybe on a warm spring day, you’ll feel like taking a road trip with friends to the Finger Lakes. Second Sunday of every month. Hope to meet you on a micer day than this one. Yes, our clean water is so precious and we can’t live without it. Just spoke with a friend from CA about the drought there. They are scared! And much of our food supply depends on this emptying aquifers. We’re so lucky to have these clean fresh water lakes. Best to you, Elaine

  7. Applause Elaine for your ongoing efforts to help preserve the environment and to continually find strength and time to commit to your so many endeavors. You are remarkable! xo 🙂

    • Thanks, Debby. As you know a writer needs inspiration and something worthwhile to write about. The dedicated environmental leaders here combine rational scientific knowledge, political savvy, good legal advice and support from Earthjustice, and a spiritual reverence for the water and earth. I believe in the cause and love my involvement with a community of dedicated people, most of them people I haven’t known for long. Many years ago, Vic and I were involved with preventing gas drilling in the Finger Lakes National Forest–and we won. The stakes are higher now.

      • The world is different now, much harder to fight politics. People like you make it a better place. 🙂

        • I hope so, Debby. Big meeting tonight. Resistance to gas storage builds around here, but we hope to keep the gas industry ou–peacefully. Thanks.

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