WATERtalk Wednesday, March 4, 2020

with Diann Neu

Stirring WATERS: Feminist Liturgies for Justice

(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2020)

Mary E Hunt: Like all of WATER’s efforts, our purpose today is social change as well as spiritual refreshment. In the midst of a bruising primary season, and with the uncertainties generated by the coronavirus, we need both.

Today we discuss Diann Neu’s new collection, Stirring Waters: Feminist Liturgies for Justice. We at WATER are thrilled to be the first to introduce this book, all 339 pages of it, because we know it will be a great resource. Heaven knows in these troubled times we need rituals and liturgies that are consistent with our deepest convictions. We need to be able to pray and contemplate, to celebrate and rejoice without having to worry about exclusive language and imagery. These 52 offerings have been vetted by WATER groups so they meet our hopes and expectations for socially responsible worship.

Diann Neu needs no introduction to WATER audiences. But just in case someone is unfamiliar with her, let me simply say that she is WATER’s mainstay in liturgy and ritual. She is also a psychotherapist and spiritual director. She handles all of the business aspects of WATER, teaching countless interns over 36 years how to run a small but effective, economical and efficient nonprofit.

Diann earned a Masters in Clinical Social Work at Catholic University of America, a Masters of Divinity and a Masters in Sacred Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (where I made her acquaintance, and as they say, the rest is history). She was part of the wonderfully creative International Feminist Theology program at San Francisco Theological Seminary where she earned her Doctorate in Ministry.


Diann is a Providence Associate, a Catholic religious community in Terre Haute, Indiana, and locally part of the SAS, Sisters Against Sexism worship community.

I daresay WATER is best known for its work on liturgy and ritual. More people meet religion through worship than through theology and ethics combined. So it is crucial that we have resources that meet changing needs, especially including people from a range of different backgrounds in the process of planning and carrying out liturgies. That begins with women of many starting points since for millennia the regular worship of major religious traditions has been shaped by men, by men’s experiences, language, indeed their spirituality. How fortunate we are to live in a world where Diann and her colleagues take on the sacred, including, for example, feminist Eucharists which are so important. They do so creatively, without the need to ape old models or fall into the stock-in-trade tropes of patriarchal religions.

When you get the book, be sure to read the endorsements which say better than I can today how important this book is. Let me quote from three: Benedictine Joan Chittister writes of Diann’s book: “It brings the art of meaning to the depth of reflection…This book will enrich the quality of prayer for group after group, for occasion after occasion, over and over again.” Traci West, womanist theologian and professor at Drew Theological School, says: “It is the grounding resource faithful people struggling against social injustice need right now.” Brasilian theological Ivone Gebara writes: “Diann designed creative liturgies which celebrate our women ancestors and invite their stories to speak to our daily joys and pains. Her work inspires us to foster new relations among women around the world, as well as between women and the planet.”

Congratulations, Diann, we look forward to hearing from you about this exciting book that will be available soon from WATER. A printer’s glitch delayed publication by a month or so, but we are assured that they will be here by the end of this month. The book is STIRRING WATERS: FEMINIST LITURGIES FOR JUSTICE (LITURGICAL PRESS, 2020) available at WATER or through Amazon or from the publisher.


Thank you especially to Mary, WATER staff and interns, and to the WATER community worldwide. With wonderous gratitude for thirty-five years together stirring waters and letting justice flow. May we all continue to be well!

I begin with an Overview of how Stirring WATERS came to be. It is a legacy gift!

Every day I go to the water. Presently my water is a pond with a fountain that sits on the deck at my home. Throughout my life, the water has been a lake: Lake Manitou in northern Indiana, Lake LaSalle in Brown County, Indiana, and the lakes at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. In my childhood, the water was a creek flowing beside my family home. During my graduate studies, the water was the San Francisco Bay. Now it is the Atlantic Ocean.

Water: rain, streams, lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds, creeks, pools, wells, waterfalls; and the fluids of most living organisms

According to Cherokee tradition, going to water at the beginning and at the end of each day is good practice. On each visit one asks the water to take what is not needed or what does not belong (like anger, worry, blame, competition, conflict, anxiety, illness) and to bring what one needs (like calm, inspiration, insight, compassion, patience, healing). The Cherokee understand that the waters of our lives and the waters of Earth are intertwined. Throughout my life I have known this too, perhaps beginning with living in the water of my mother’s womb.

Stirring: inspiring, moving, impassioned, exciting, moving briskly, electrifying, awakening, motivating, stimulating, provoking, affecting, disturbing, causing commotion, energizing

Throughout the thirty-five years (and now more) that the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) has been in operation, I have been creating and teaching people worldwide how to design feminist liturgies for justice to celebrate with their communities.

Stirring WATERS: Feminist Liturgies for Justice presents the scripts of those liturgies designed and celebrated with local, national, and international groups: the WATER community; Sisters against Sexism (SAS), the oldest US women-church base community; other women-church groups; house churches; women’s religious communities; intentional eucharistic communities; the Providence community of St. Mary-of-the-Woods; ecumenical and interfaith feminist groups; and justice organizations worldwide.

Here’s the Creative Process.

Every month at WATER, I meet with staff to design, write, and celebrate a liturgy that is appropriate for the needs of that particular month. As seen in the contents of Stirring WATERS, a liturgy may raise up a particular holy person, like Julian of Norwich, or focus on a universal theme, like Earth Day. It might be created to encourage solidarity with a justice focus, like Domestic Violence Awareness, or focus on wellness for the new year. These liturgies seek to bring feminist insights to the theme of the month.

The liturgies in this book are a resource to plan the ones that you and your community need to nourish your souls, focus your passions, and call you to make the world a better place.

The Structure of Stirring WATERS has Five Sections.

Each of the fifty-two liturgies in Stirring WATERS is a complete ritual focused on a specific theme. The book contains four sections of twelve liturgies each that correspond to one of the months of the year. The pairing of a given liturgy with a specific month offers a suggestion for themes throughout the year. There are four more liturgies to round out the year with fifty-two. The liturgies can be celebrated whenever you and your community need them, and the sections within a given liturgy can be interchanged with another one.

The first section, “Drink from the Well,” features twelve liturgies honoring holy women who invite us into their sacred spaces to inspire and awaken us to spiritual insights and practices. They challenge us to be bold and stir the waters! And it was challenging to choose these 12 only! Stay tuned for more.

Come to the water and Drink from the Well. These liturgies put us into the traditions of our ancestors.

  1. January: Step into the Pool with Sojourner Truth
  2. February: Embraced by Brigit with a Breath of Spring
  3. March: Rejoice at Miriam’s Well for Passover
  4. April: Set the World on Fire like Catherine of Siena
  5. May: Trust All Shall Be Well with Julian of Norwich
  6. June: Come, Sophia Spirit, at Pentecost
  7. July: Witness with Mary Magdalene
  8. August: Honor A Wise Woman
  9. September: Return Thanks with Hildegard of Bingen
  10. October: Walk in Providence with Mother Théodore Guérin
  11. November: Solidarity with Comadres and Martyrs of El Salvador
  12. December: Reimagine Mary as a Woman Today

The second section, “Step into the Pool,” presents twelve liturgies that challenge us to electrify, provoke, disturb, and cause commotion like Sojourner Truth, African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, who said in 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, OH: “…while the water is stirring, I’ll step into the pool.” 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio

Come to the water and Step into the Pool. These liturgies invite action.

  1. January: Recognize Women in Politics
  2. February: Called to Heal
  3. March: Come to Waters of Peace for World Water Day
  4. April: Return to Life for Earth Day
  5. May: Reach for the Stars with Sally Ride on National Space Day
  6. June: Praise the Sun for Summer Solstice
  7. July: Stand with Malala Yousafzai
  8. August: Keep on Moving in Solidarity
  9. September: Bless Feminist Ministers
  10. October: The Faces of Breast Cancer
  11. November: Give Thanks for Women of Wisdom
  12. December: Bringing the Light of Wisdom for Winter Solstice

The third section, “Let Justice Flow Like Water,” consists of twelve liturgies that invite communities to be impassioned, motivated, energized, and stimulated like Wangari Maathai, environmental activist, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who said in a 2006 Speech at the Goldman Awards in San Francisco: “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” Wangari Maathai Speech at Goldman Awards, San Francisco (24 April 2006)

Come to the water and let justice flow with these liturgies calling for justice-seeking work that stirs waters!

  1. January: Praying to End Human Trafficking
  2. February: Witnessing Womanist Wisdom during Black History Month
  3. March: Celebrate International Women’s Day
  4. April: Imagine a Church for Our Daughters and Take Them to Work
  5. May: Remembering and Letting Go on Mother’s Day
  6. June: Grateful, Proud, and Connected for Pride and Equality Day
  7. July: The Saving Grace of Fun
  8. August: Cherishing Friends on Friendship Day
  9. September: Lift Up Peacemakers for International Day of Peace
  10. October: Breaking Silence to End Domestic Violence
  11. November: Becoming Saints of Love and Justice on All Saints Day
  12. December: Telling Love’s Story on World AIDS Day

The fourth section, “Be Well!” includes twelve liturgies for personal meditation to sustain, cleanse, refresh, and rejuvenate drooping spirits. In The Interior Castle Teresa of Avila, Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Catholic Church, reflects: “The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.” Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, © 1979), 181.

Come to the water and be well. These liturgies call us home to ourselves, to breathe again, to replenish ourselves so we are ready to stir the waters, step into the pool, and let justice flow.

  1. January: A Cup of Blessings for the New Year
  2. February: Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!
  3. March: Thank ReSisters Worldwide
  4. April: Earth Day Prayer
  5. May: You Are the Salt of the Earth
  6. June: Drawing from Wisdom’s Well
  7. July: Hand in Hand—Imagine!
  8. August: Bless Me with Creative Hope
  9. September: Pray for Peace on Earth
  10. October: Grant Me Healing
  11. November: Thanksgiving Meal of Gratitude
  12. December: You Are Home

The fifth section, “Ever-flowing Streams” offers four more liturgies for the other four weeks in the year: Listen to Cries for Justice; Pray with Us; #MeToo: Reclaiming Our Voices in an Age of Violence; and Water Meditation for Wellness.

The book also includes information on how to How to Create a Feminist Liturgy of Justice and How to Start Feminist Liturgy Group, Inclusive Eucharistic Community, or House Church.

Thank you for the ways that you bring inclusivity into the liturgies you create and into your spiritual life. It’s a lifelong challenge. I hope these liturgies invite you to do that with your communities. They are also lovely to sit and read by yourself, and have a way of connecting with your spiritual home, a justice space, a world connection.



Comment: Thank you, Diann, for 31 years of mentoring me in preparing liturgies and the rich experience of collaborating with you. I am very excited for the book. For communities I know, I believe this book will be a teaching and learning opportunity.

Comment: Every time I’ve been to one of the liturgies Diann has written, I feel so privileged and I wish that I could remember it all to repeat it. This book is a wonderful way to not have to try to remember!

Diann: A couple years ago, I tried to get several publishers to publish a feminist eucharist book of mine, and Liturgical Press said they couldn’t do that. This book has 3 different kinds of liturgies in it – feminist eucharists (liturgies using meal, bread, and drink), liturgies using the symbol of oil, and liturgies using the symbol of water – equally distributed. So, when I was talking with Liturgical Press about this book, I wondered if they were going to go for the feminist eucharists. When they wanted a couple liturgies to take to their board, I boldly put the feminist eucharist ones in, because I wanted an answer from the beginning. And it went through! I have a feminist eucharist book ready to be published, and I am now emboldened to bring this work out next.

Question: I am in complete awe and am deeply grateful to your longtime commitment to loving and to justice, and to breaking through centuries of obstruction. I was wondering if you could share when you experienced an inspiration for your writing?

Diann: I think there has been inspiration before any of these rituals were created. For example, our March ritual will be on Harriet Tubman, and this came to be because of the movie Harriet. For women’s history month, we wanted to raise up an African American woman who inspires. And since I don’t have a ritual on Harriet Tubman yet, we are creating one. We have to get at who is she, what she did, how she inspires us, what are the readings, what are the songs?

Laura: Coming into the Harriet ritual, I started by reading about her life, and her story; the stories that are often shared and the pieces of her life that go unacknowledged. Last week, we in the WATER office were comparing what we learned about her, and wondering how we were going to translate these key stories of her life into images and music, using not only Harriet’s words but also her actions in how we design our time of reflection. Diann’s wisdom has provided guidance of how to shape a ritual around someone’s life.

Diann: That’s what I hope this book does for communities. It’s the inspiration of creating a liturgy that is then put into text for people to use. The other process is creating something for your community out of raw material.

Over the past years, I have developed an inclusive structure. I am trained as a liturgist through the Catholic tradition, which I think has a fine structure, and needs to be broadened for all of our communities. I have developed, working with communities and individuals, an inclusive structure that I bring to liturgies:

  • Call to Gather welcomes participants, focuses the liturgy, states why we are celebrating this theme, and invites people to gather.
  • Naming the Circle invites participants to create the liturgy circle by speaking their names and saying something specific that focuses the liturgy.
  • Songs | Chants | Music | Prayer | Litany | Candle Lighting support the theme, establish the mood, transition into readings and blessings, and weave the liturgy together.
  • Readings can be Scripture passages, poems, stories, and/or excerpts from writings by women or justice leaders to capture the message of the liturgy.
  • Reflection | Sharing, traditionally the homily, offers time for communal sharing since the Divine speaks to everyone. A few sentences recap the message of the readings, and then one or two questions are posed for quiet reflection before sharing.
  • Presentation of the Symbol introduces the symbol in relation to the theme of the liturgy. A blesser holds it, presents it to the community, and says why it is being used.
  • Blessing the Symbol involves prayer, song, gesture, and community response.
  • Interaction with the Symbol may come before or after the blessing. One gives directions for interacting with the symbol: pass it around the circle, one person offers it to others, participants go to stations/centers to interact with it, several people start passing it to different parts of the circle, groups of people come forward to drink water from the common well, and many other ways.
  • Sending Forth gathers up the message of the liturgy and challenges people to go forth to act on it.
  • Greeting of Peace offers a time to bid farewell with handshakes, warm greetings, hugs, embraces, and/or exchanging symbols used in the liturgy.
  • Closing Song sends people forth empowered to live the message of the liturgy.
  • Take Action challenges participants to act for justice to make the world a better place for all creation.
  • Learn More from These Resources offers feminist resources that enhance and expand the theme for each liturgy. They can be books, websites, YouTube videos, organizations, articles, and more. Each liturgy offers an educational opportunity. We began adding these two years ago because of the justice component of liturgy.

Comment: I’m allergic to liturgy, but I’ve been nominated to lead a burial service for my sister. So, I’m looking forward to finding inspiration in your book.

Diann: You want my book Women’s Rites: Feminist Liturgies for Life’s Journey , not this one! It has a burial service in it.

Comment: You talked about the various bodies of water, and I thought of the mud puddle! We all walk, stomp, and wade through them, and they are a part of life. Children jump in them! I was struck by the comment about planting a tree – until you haven’t kept something alive, you haven’t done anything. I planted a tree in my yard, and I read that if you plant a tree, you have hope. I am struck by your ability to take 52 disparate liturgies and put them together in a way that makes sense.

Diann: When I was 8, I was bored, and the maple trees were sending their seeds everywhere. I took the seeds and planted them around a tree in our family yard. About 7 came up as sprouts, and my father wisely suggested we plant them around the yard, and I watched them grow. They are still surrounding the house I grew up in.

Comment: Mennonites aren’t terribly liturgical, but I appreciate Diann’s work because it provides guidance for those of us who are making up stuff all the time. I’ve come to appreciate a template, and the ways that you can create from that. I’ve learned how to sneak feminist stuff into mainstream church, in a way that has influenced people and their ability to understand the purpose of liturgy in new ways. I appreciate your incorporating a call to action – what good is spirituality if it’s not propelling us to action.

Diann: I want to mention women musicians – there is a challenge to finding women’s music. In this book, I only wanted to raise up women musicians, and almost everyone gave their copyright permission gratis. I called one woman who told me she doesn’t write music anymore because she was shunned by the church, and thanked me for raising up her music. I challenged her to keep writing. Another musician said we should gather women musicians together, as there is not an entry point. The women musicians are doing justice work and have taken their music elsewhere. How does women’s music get to the heart of church communities?

Stirring WATERS is being marketed in parish communities. I think this is a moment where there is an opening and we need to step through it.

Mary E. Hunt: Here are some questions for us to think of us we conclude: Many women who lead worship, even some who call themselves feminist whether Christian or Jewish, have all but given up on inclusive language. When one goes to most churches, for example, it feels as if that work was never done though we are witnesses to the many and varied efforts over the last 50 years. Why are people so resistant? Why doesn’t it matter more? Why isn’t it taught as the gold standard? This book is so helpful because it incorporates inclusive language without modifying and vetting.

One of the things we at WATER have long tried to do, but had little success at, is working on theology, ethics, and ritual for children. Are there tips people might find here to help with that? I think especially of how to keep kids involved in worship, let them take on the lead roles, and more, and also let them enjoy community without coercion.

WATER thanks Diann Neu for providing resources for worship that reflect our convictions.