We are stronger when we gather together. If the last year has taught us anything, it's the power in gathering together, as well as the loss of that power when we’re separated.
The same goes for the waters of the Great Lakes Basin. We and the Great Lakes are stronger when we gather together for the health of these waters. For the past several years at the Leelanau (MI) UnCaged Festival, Marie Elena Gaspari has helped gather people together for a water blessing along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Sunset over Green Bay, WI - Photo by Dan Robinson
Gaspari is a master wisdom teacher with 40 years of spiritual exploration, study, and practice, including teaching programs in the healing arts since 1990 and leading over 300 ritual and ceremonial events. She's also an award winning poet. After growing up in Massachusetts and living in California for many years, Gaspari and her husband moved to the Leelanau Peninsula (in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula) in 2012. Shortly after that, she offered to lead a water blessing at the UnCaged Festival, the area’s community festival which was then in its early years.
Gaspari felt that “water was really one of the reasons we were all here. And I felt that it might be important to have some kind of a tribute or a blessing, maybe a water blessing,” she said.
The blessing has become an regular part of the annual festival, and a chance for people from different faith or spiritual traditions to gather. “We have some wonderful women who work with the water from the Anishinaabe tradition, from the Grand Traverse Band (of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), that come every year, and they sing a beautiful water blessing song for us,” Gaspari said. “Sometimes, I've had the minister at Trinity Church. We have had a wonderful Native American man and his wife who also played music. He was the minister at the Indian mission church here in Northport. At one time, we also did some Tibetan Buddhist prayer as well.”
“I really love doing it,” she added. “And we've taken to ending (the blessing) with something that everyone in the group can do. So usually I hand out flowers, and we ask people to line up on the Marina, and just toss their flower with the prayer into the water. So we've tried to keep it pretty simple.”
After a whole year, the pandemic has seeped into every corner of life. The ability to gather together has been curtailed in order to protect each of us and to prevent adding to the over half-million deaths from Covid-19 in this country. That inability to gather together, though, has reminded us of the power in doing exactly that. From a spiritual perspective, participating in a ritual of some kind when we gather can add to that power.
“I do a lot of ritual and ceremony, and there are just some basic steps within any kind of ritual or ceremony. I feel that people having personal time to connect with something from their own hearts is very important. We're all different,” Gaspari said. “But as I said, your thoughts are very powerful. Just thinking, ‘thank you,’ is extremely important. To just kind of quietly hold a moment of joy that's coming from your heart is very important. And if you want to go beyond that, and say words, say a poem, say a mantra, sing a song, play music, dance, that's fine. But it really begins with just that, that quiet moment from within.”
The water blessing has been well received at Leelanau Uncaged. “We get more and more people every year. So that's a good sign. They really like it. One year something happened, we almost didn't do it. And people are like, ‘Oh, you have to do it. You have to do it.’ So, that's when I realized, oh, I guess it's important,” Gaspari reflected. “People have said ‘We really look forward to this. We're really so happy you do this. This is a very meaningful part of the festival for us,’ and that’s what we had hoped for.”
As I write this post, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 being declared a pandemic. One year of not being able to gather as we’d like, one year of cancelled events and family reunions. One year of mourning and missing each other. Last year the Uncaged Festival, like so many other festivals, was cancelled, but right now it’s on the schedule for September of this year.
The possibility of renewed life and community gives us hope and helps us move forward. May our shared health allow the Uncaged Festival and the water blessing – and so many other events and gatherings that create community – to continue this year. And may we again experience the power in gathering together for the sake of each other and the Great Lakes.