Interfaith “Water Sabbath” offers a time of rest, peace and hope for WNC water ecology and justice activists

Asheville’s affiliate of NC’s Interfaith Power and Light began offering a monthly Earth Sabbath service this spring at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte St.

Every fourth Monday the community is invited to an Inter-faith service intended to offer a time of spiritually restorative fellowship, hope and peace to those of us who care about protecting the ecological systems that support life on our beautiful planet.

Last Monday I was honored to be invited to help create an Earth Sabbath dedicated to Water by local and international water activist many in Asheville know well — Cathy Holt.  Cathy brought together a wonderful ensemble of women to create the service.

St. Mary’s has a small sanctuary and the acoustics are marvelous!  The Sahara Peace Choir opened the service with Yemoja, a gorgeous song to the Yoruban goddess of the Ocean.  Linda Metzner who composed the song also directed all the music for the evening.   Later in the service they sang a joy-filled song to Oshun, goddess of the fresh waters.   And we ended the service with fun-filled round called the Wheel of the Water that offered us to lift up our voices in praise together.

I was asked to Call the Directions as an invocation.  I created as special one intended to ground us all in a sense of place and our relationship to the watersheds our part of the Southern Appalachians.  You can read the text of this invocation at the end of this post.

I also led the “Connecting” portions of the service, where people were invited to share personal reflections on the beauty and sacredness of water, their responses to the threats we face globally and locally around water and our personal sense of  spiritual relationship with water.

Susa Silvermarie offered a beautiful visualization meditation in the form of an original poem titled, “Hot Springs in the Andes”.

Sometimes the Earth Sabbath’s focus on a particular faith tradition’s expression of reverence and care for the Earth.  The first one  I attended, back in March, was led by Rob Cabelli, the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel.  The service he offered was focused on the turning of the seasons — winter to spring — the way Care of Creation has been expressed in the Jewish tradition over history into the present.

The next Earth Sabbath will be a meditation service led by local author and ordained Zen Master, Judith Toy.  I’m told if the weather is fine we’ll be outside in the gardens.

That will be on Monday, May 28, (yes, Memorial Day).  You can “like” the Asheville Earth Sabbath on Facebook.  Or if you’d prefer to get an email reminder of these  services contact Richard Fireman by email at firepeople(at)

Do join us and experience a well-deserved respite for your sacred-activist heart.

Here’s the text of the Calling of Directions:

In Permaculture practice we make much of knowing our watershed.  How many people here know the name of their watershed?  If you live in Asheville you certainly live in the French Broad watershed or the Swannanoa River watershed.  And there is likely a more particular watershed of a tributary of one of those rivers.  We also live in the Gulf of Mexico watershed as our water on this side of the Continental Divide drains ultimately into the Gulf.  And on a larger scale the Earth herself can be thought of as a large watershed.

It is worth noting that the words “tribe” and “tributary” have the same root.  Indigenous people recognize that watersheds create practical boundaries for organizing communities. 

As we call the directions I invite you to name your watershed if you know it.

Take a deep breath.  Now take another one.  And let us orient ourselves – which means literally to turn to the east.

To the east we find the headwaters of the Catawba River and the smaller, slower Swannanoa that flows toward us and meets our French Broad River – one of the four oldest rivers in the world.

The Blueridge Mountains drop off to our east creating waterfalls and micro-climates unseen anywhere else on the planet.  Beyond that mighty Yemoja herself, the Atlantic, ebbs and flows.

If you live in the East and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the South…

We face down the French Broad River Valley – a land of fertility and richness where people have lived for millennia.  Again the Blue Ridge drops, but even more precipitously, creating a land of waterfalls including the famous Triple Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.  The Green River lies to the South as well as the Little Tennessee and the Davidson.

If you live in the South and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the West, we can know that there lies the Cherokee Indian Qualla Boundary and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park both of which protect watersheds filled with trout.  And further west, the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, a single precious jewel of old-growth Southern Appalachian forest.  The Tennessee River, the Little River, the Hiawasee and the Nantahala.  Closer, the Little Pigeon River flows, a river that helped bring national attention to the problem of dioxins caused by the processes being used to manufacture paper.  More recently, our neighbors in Tennessee are still dealing with the toxic results of a huge coal ash spill.

If you live in the West and know your watershed, call its name.

Turning to the North we look up the French Broad River valley and we find our Hot Springs warmed by the living fires at the core of our planet.   Closer we find the Woodfin watershed, protected by committed people who lived near-by and took a stand. 

If you live in the North and know your watershed, call its name.

One more turn and here, we find ourselves in the center. 

I invite you now to take a deep breath.  Accept the gift of oxygen from our plant companions here on Earth.  And know that your out-breath is a gift in return. 

For most of our history, people were a blessing to this planet.  We helped increase bio-diversity.  We knew ourselves as part of the community of the Earth.  I invite you to know yourself that way now – connected and significant.

It does us no good to think of ourselves as a plague and a parasite here on our home.  How would your life be different if you thought of yourself as a blessing and a gift to the land, the water, the air, your neighbors?

There is severe damage, indeed.  At the same time, great forces of love, healing and hope are growing in the world.  We now have more people than ever aware of our impacts.  We now have technologies and practices that, should we actually use them, allow us to live lightly on the earth in comfort and security.  We have knowledge and wisdom, if we choose to apply them, about how to provide for our needs in way that respects and enhances the balance of life.  And we have a growing global and local community of people committed to gracefully transitioning to a balanced way of living.

So I invite you, as we open our Water Sabbath to pause in appreciation for all those who are moved in their lives to heal and protect the Earth in small ways and large.  Gratitude for the composters, the gardeners, the breeders of worms and mushrooms, the soil-builders, those who cleanse the waters and purify the air, all those who clean up the messes others have left behind.  Gratitude for those who defend the forests and those who plant trees.  Gratitude for those who heal the grasslands and restore the streams and the fisheries, who guard the healing herbs and who know the lore of wild plants.  Gratitude for those who heal the cities and restore community and creativity and love.  Gratitude and blessings to all who stand against greed, who risk themselves, to those who have bled and been wounded and to those who have given their lives in service to the Coming Generations on Earth.

May all the healers find their own healing.  May we all have the help, the courage, the luck and the love we need to do the amazing work that lies before us.  May we be in the right place at the right time in the right way to move us all forward to a future that is beautiful, fun, peaceful and healthy for every child, of every species everywhere for all time.

And so it is.  Blessed Be.

From my heart,


Michelle K. Smith is the Founder and Lead Celebrant at Asheville Celebrant, offering personal ceremonies for life’s Big Moments.

Would you like to share this article?Please do!  Just include this complete blurb with it.
Michelle Smith is the founder of Asheville Celebrant. She is an ordained Inter-Faith Minister &  Life-Cycle Celebrant who helps people experience deeper, more meaningful connections in their families and communities. Whether helping people create personal ceremonies for life’s Big Moments or leading public ceremonies that build community, Michelle honors all philosophies, beliefs and traditions–religious, secular, spiritual, inter-faith and multi-cultural. To explore the possibilities for honoring your own life’s Big Moments email Michelle at ashevillecelebrant(at) to set up a no-obligation Explore the Possibilities call.

About themichellesmith

Community enthusiast from the Blue Ridge Mountains of western NC who thinks globally and acts neighborly. Inter-faith Minister and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant. Founder and Lead Celebrant, Asheville Celebrant. Willing to work for more peace, more joy and more beautiful places to share stories, food, music and dancing, Unwilling to work for raw survival of our species. Prefers dialogue to debate. Believes fundamentally that Duke's is the only mayonnaise worth eating.
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