The Equinox is just around the corner as I write this, which means that it’s time for one of my congregation’s most important observances of the season: the Blue River Rescue. Every year, sometime between Spring Equinox and Beltane, a dedicated crew of members and friends of Gaia Community puts on grubby clothes and heads out in the early morning to join hundreds of other Kansas Citians to pick up trash and debris from along the course of the Blue River. You won’t be seeing too many invocations happening as we gather up the hundreds of plastic bags we clear each year, and we don’t usually chant or light a candle before hauling tires out of the muck at river’s edge, but for us, this is sacred work.
Service = Sacred Work
To my mind, this is one of the key places that Paganism and Unitarian Universalism come together and reinforce each other: in service. In this particular expression of service, we take from UUism a respect for the interdependent web of all existence, and an understanding of the disparate impact of pollution and water shortages on people in poverty. From Paganism, we take the experience of the land as a spiritual being that needs care and attention, and the sheer joy of getting our hands dirty for a good cause. Distill all that down, and there we are: up to our ankles in river muck, filling giant-sized garbage bags with plastic cups and beer cans, or leaning out over the water to grab the handlebars of an abandoned bicycle and pull it to shore.
This is a form of worship that builds on the work we do in circle, but that also grounds it in action. We do magical work for the good of the planet, we pray to our gods, we give offerings and visualize healing and move energy and all of those other wonderful things. And then, in the act of service, we create a channel for all of that energetic work, all of those prayers and good intentions, to do some immediate, physical good. Magical work can be life-changing and powerful, but it’s also incredibly powerful to see the difference one afternoon’s physical work makes to the river, and the staggering amount of junk that is removed for proper disposal or recycling. If we should happen to bless the site as we go, so much the better.
Service to Gaia
Usually we dedicate the work of environmental clean-up projects like this to Gaia, the living earth, who we think of as patroness as well as namesake. Each July, the congregation chooses a patron for the year, and this year, we’re honoring Danu, who we think of as the mother of rivers. So dedicating the work to her seems the right thing to do. Maybe we’ll be extra motivated this year, inspired by both goddesses. Maybe we will break our own records for bags of trash filled, or tires collected, or shoreline distance cleaned. But whatever happens, I know our crew will be out there having a good time getting dirty for the earth’s sake.