All posts by deaconheathers

I work as a Diaconal Minister (deacon) in the United Church of Canada. I have a progressive perspective on faith & spirituality, religion, and love to engage in conversation on said topics. I also love to knit.


Lately (literally 4 times this week, at least once a week in the past 3 months, and frequently during my 4-month hiatus this Fall) I’ve been confronted by the question “What does it mean to Belong?”  I’ve not come to a solid conclusion yet, so bear with me.   belonging Lucy

But it haunts me, this question. I have assented to statements of ‘faith’ and not felt I’ve belonged to The Group.  Like other healthy persons, I long to belong….but not at any price.   I’ve had profound experiences of truly ‘belonging’ to the Holy even when – sometimes even because – I do not agree with a statement laid down by The Organization.  I’ve felt nearly dead when I’ve felt I had to leave a group (more than once) because to be true to myself I came to a place of saying “I don’t agree” with whatever the “Belong” requirement was.  Conclusion: Assent  Belonging.  On the other hand, can a person belong without giving assent to a group’s shared statement of purpose?

When it comes to having the right, or responsibility, to be part of the decision-making, ought there to be a check-list of who belongs?

There are implied rights, and responsibilities, to belonging.  One gets to be part of the decision-making, but is it enough to attend events, or volunteer, or financially support an organization?  Is frequency or quantity thereof part of the criteria?  Think Citizenship; maybe not?  Think Firefighters; maybe not?  Think political party…golf club…sports team.  Do I belong to an arts community, or music band, if I do not produce art?  Or share an understanding of what “art” or “music” is?  Do I belong if I don’t show up to work/practise days? to performance dates or exhibitions? Does belonging hinge on the payment of fees, or contributing financially to the maintenance costs?

Does the criteria for belonging change if the organization is about support and care rather than production?  Can anyone be in on decision-making for a hospital, or service agency, for example? What about belonging to a family?  Does one still belong without showing up to family events? Can a neighbour belong to the family if they spend more time, or eat, at that house more than at their own? Is belonging to a family dependent on agreeing with a set of values?

If Spirituality is about connection, community, belonging,  do the criteria change?   Is belonging more than assent to a statement of faith? more than participation? more than finances?  Is it any less than any of things?

This is not a vague question. In my work we are coming up to weeks of decision-making meetings and sometimes who gets to votes is determined by who ‘belongs’?   It matters, this notion of belonging, because it feels like it also determines who is valued, who gets to make decisions? And I’m not sure those are the same thing.

I heard recently that belonging is about feeling comfortable to be yourself, to make a contribution to the well-being of the whole.

How do you understand what it means to ‘belong”?

belonging cycle bhma…More food for thought

from British Holistic Medical Association



Should I stay or should I go?*

This bright, sunny, wintery day, I was driving to a scheduled activity, tight on time as usual, when my eye caught this really bright – silvery – light to the south of me.  I didn’t think there was water, buildings or bins there, so what was that light?  I was fascinated, drawn in, by it.  I had to make a choice: do I stay with The Plan, or follow that light wherever it led me?  I was really torn, quite anxious actually.  What would you have done?

Everyone at some point is faced with an unexpected opportunity that will disruptstay or go pinterest our usual lives but draws us in; and it’s a form of spiritual crisis.  First, we have to be not so focused on what we are doing (yes, I am saying that), so nose-to-the-grindstone, that we miss them.  Then we have to question our assumptions and criteria deciding whether to risk all that we know for the possibility of something we don’t.  Not all bright lights are worth pursuing, so how does a person discern which opportunities, or lights, to investigate?

There’s story in my faith tradition about scholars who study the sky, see this “new, bright light”, realize its potential and pursue it.   On the side of that windy country road I thought of that story and I realized that the travelers in this story are spiritual giants.  First, they studied and knew how to read the skies.  I didn’t know enough to discern whether or not to pursue this light into the hills.  What are the things that you study, that matters enough to learn about it below a surface level? How does this knowledge & wisdom influence what you choose to do, or not do?

Second, they left their home country, and returned home by a different way. All enduring spiritual stories teach that to follow the path, the light, that brings life in its abundance requires a person to risk, even leave, everything that is known and cherished. Family. Tradition. Assumptions. The fears that hold us back. And a willingness to be changed on, and by, the journey.  On career paths, walking paths and life paths I’ve discovered this ‘letting go to gain’ and trusting is better for me in the end; but even so, every time, it takes me great spiritual energy to remember those experiences, and great courage, when the path takes the next turn, or the light leads me where I do not expect.

Finally, the travelers in the story turned to others when they got lost.  I’m still learning to trust companions on the journey, to listen to certain wisdom and people when I need reality-checks.  Where do your reality checks come from?  Who sustains you on your journey when it veers of course?

I confess I did not follow the light that presented itself that day, I chose to stay on the road and when where I was scheduled to be, because I feared what would happen if I didn’t.  And I have wondered ever since, what if…..?

* This song by The Clash (Combat Rock, 1982) often becomes an ‘earworm’ when I’m faced with decisions….It’s not a literal question I am asking.

Thanks to for the image.



As the page turns….

I have this thing about Dec 31st-Jan1st.  Maybe it’s memory from my early childhood of going to sleep with my friend among layers of coats while our parents were downstairs (maybe playing cards) “ringing in the new year”. Maybe it’s the remembrance of ham and cabbage and potatoes, what I remember as “the smell of Gramma’s” on New Year’s Day, which I try to replicate as a tip of the hat.  Maybe it’s the smell of a new calendar (whether or not I’ve already go events on it).  Whatever it is, there is something almost superstitious about my intention (and often actually accomplishing) changing the sheets, cleaning the house, finishing the laundry, tidying my workspace before the stroke of midnight.  And being a “deadline” kind of person, it’s usually the last day or two that it happens.

What gets me most is that I don’t think of myself as a superstitious person.  What is it about turning a page on a calendar that compels me to act thus?

But it doesn’t feel like superstition; it feels sacred.  These idiosyncratic rituals feel like an offering of myself, of gratitude, to the Source of Life.  Sometime during those two days, I recite a Jewish prayer that contains the phrase “who has kept us and sustained us in life to experience this time”, not because I feel personally picked out, but in recognition that I am here to bear witness to this moment.  That’s not something I was intentionally taught as a child, so I wonder where does it come from?

Is it the human spirit’s need to notice times of transition?  Is it a recognition of our smallness but importance in the universe?  Acknowledging our/my part in the great cycle of Time Turning?  I don’t know.  It feels like a ‘thin place’ in time, an opportunity, if I pay attention, to feel extra connected with That Which Is Beyond Our Self.  There is something that affirms life, that offers a new start, that is downright grace-full about the ritual of marking the Georgian calendar’s New Year.  About turning the page.

How do you face the transitions? What do you do to mark it?

I am ambiguous about the ritual of making resolutions. Do you make them?  How is that work for you? Does it keep you accountable, or is a burden abandoned (like most of us) within six weeks?   I like idea of making an intention to live in grace and wholeness, so that I can love myself and others who touch my life in a variety of ways. I also hope that I can make it to midnight this year.

So before I run off to go change those sheets, and put up the new calendar, may I wish you Happy New Year, my Friends.


In this baby, I find ….

My recollection is that in my family of origin, part of our celebration of someone’s birthday includes a story, or 2, that begins with “I remember the day you were born; I was…..”  Some of the stories are told exactly the same way year after year, others change in details over time, some don’t recount historical events as a camera may have caught them….but they are still true stories.   They’re true because of who is telling them; it is the story-teller’s relationship to the Birthday Girl or Boy, their experience of our coming into the world, and into their lives, that gives the story it’s life and it’s truth.

That’s how I approach the birth stories about Jesus.  Some of the stories have been told exactly the same way year after year, some change in details over time, some don’t recount  historical events like a TV camera would, but, like our own birth stories what matters about the story is the storyteller, and their relationship  to this child whose birth stories we share.  It is our experience of Jesus coming into the world and how that changes us, that makes this story true….and what makes it sacred story.  We tell about how we encounter the Holy Mystery behind all of life in the life of this child, and the man he will grow up to be.

For Christians, this child’s birth matters – although we may have difference about how and why it matters.  Because if it doesn’t matter to us in 2018, it doesn’t matter, period.  But with matters of faith and spirit, we can only speak of our own experience; what we share becomes our testimony, our evidence, of the holy and sacred experience.

For me, this is a story about finding beauty and hope in the middle of violence and anger.  In the middle of a brutal occupation, when people are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals, this child is born.  I wonder: what do his parents hope for him?  what do the shepherds see in him?  how can such an innocent — who makes me love him just ‘cos he’s here — be anything but beautiful and full of potential?  What do you see in this story?

So for me, today, I might testify that this child will grow up to be a man who is so full of Love I see through him God in the flesh, walking among humankind.   From him, I will learn how that I am loved and worthy, and so I can love myself.  I will learn how to love my neighbours, how to share, and how to the love the one I think of as “the enemy”, the “other”, the stranger.  This child cracks open my heart, like the skies cracked open by angel’s song, so we can step into a new life and way of being in the world. And this new world order begins when we open our hearts to love just one more person.

How would tell the truth and joy you find in this story?

Merry Christmas; may the love incarnate we celebrate bring you peace.


(Thanks to for the image.)


The missing gift?

I’ve been hearing about people’s plans for the upcoming holidays – the presents, the travel, the food, the visiting, the movies, curling or hockey they will watch during the week following, and I smile.

Something happens to us from mid-November ‘til the end of December. Professional fundraisers say Canadians are more generous with time and money than any other time of the year.  Retailers depend on the “holiday rush” to stay in the black, and apparently we are all happier to spend when there is snow on the ground. And those ubiquitous rom-com “holiday movies” – whose only “holiday” reference is a December setting and perhaps a Santa hat.   I wonder why these things are so?

I am not being a “Scrooge”, nor judging or negating people’s choices.  I’m curious.  What is it about this time of year that touches us?  That touches you?  What are these secular activities drawing on?

Are we longing for a time when life is simpler?  Are we drawn to ancient ceremonies that celebrate life (hence the evergreen trees, the mistletoe) in the midst of bleak mid-winter?  Are we caught by the turning of time, reflecting on a year that may have “flown by”, making our amends, looking forward to a fresh start with the new year? Is that what makes It’s a Wonderful Life a “holiday movie”?

I wonder how this season and the holidays that it contains would it be different if I (you) lived in the southern hemisphere?  Can you sing Jingle Bells or A Candle is burning while on the beach?

I’m not trashing anyone’s celebrations, but I do find I keep a bit of a distance from them.  It’s fine to celebrate family…unless you haven’t got one that is warm and effusive.  Or to celebrate with lots of presents, unless that’s beyond this year’s financial means.  There’s a reason there is a spike in domestic violence and suicides at this time of the year.  That sense of Merry HoHo isn’t for many people; the uplifting spirituality of the season isn’t necessarily spread as wide as we are led to think, and those for whom it is a challenge get swept to the side.

I also wonder if the spiritual stories from this time of year sometimes get domesticated until they lose their power, reduced from their overt political and visionary worldviews to soft-toothed sentimental tales?  Like Hanukkah, a celebration of Jewish political and religious independence, gets celebrated with family and fried foods. Or Kwanzaa, a holiday of the African diaspora which aims to overcome the residual oppressions of the slave trade, gets  corralled into family reunions and overindulgence.  Or the Christmas story, about how God’s reign of justice and peace arrives not with the arrival of a mighty warrior but through a vulnerable baby, and how such a deeply anticipated event could be overlooked except by the most marginalized and overlooked; and we get Santa.  wild horses dailymail uk co

These stories – whether understood literally or as metaphor – have a vision of how the world could be different from the way it is now.  Of what the world would look like when Love reigns and communities collaborate; peace is tangible, self-worth is increased and violence vanishes.

So while not dismissing the traditions of families getting together, the visiting and gifts, movies and food, I wonder if we shortchange the wild, undomesticated roots and their power to change us?  I hope, this season, that the life-giving and transformative powers of it don’t get corralled by the stuffing and fruitcake.  May you be blessed abundantly with the gifts of the holy-days you celebrate.


Hope Leads…

What kinds of things do you hope for this Christmas?  What kind of preparations are you making for that to happen?  And how’s that working this year?

Spiritually we get to ask the same questions: what is your deepest heart’s hope?   What kind of a world do you hope your children or nephews & nieces, grands, great-grands will inherit? And what kind of preparations are you making for that to happen?

As your busyness in this season shows, Hoping and Wishing are not the same things.   Wishing requires nothing but having an idea.  I wish I could lose 10 pounds…..Wish away, but there will be no difference come January.   Wishing is hope without work.

But Hope has Hope stonehill collegemore substance.  Hope requires imagination of what the result will look like or feel like.  Hope requires action for it to be realized; not necessarily a ‘plan’ in place but concrete steps that can be taken so that imagined Hope will take shape in Real Life.   So, I can imagine what a weight loss will look like, what I will be able to wear (again).  And if I keep that imagined hope before me, and I take the necessary actions, I can lose it 1 pound at a time until that hope is realized.

Our Hope leads us in the choices we make.   I hope for a world without poverty, without greed. So I choose to buy fairly traded coffee, tea, (most) chocolate, where the supplier pays the producers either living wages or premium prices for their commodities.  Costs me more, yes, but with my choice I can help reduce the poverty by this much.  Bonus: I drink and eat less, so my propensity for overindulgence is reduced. (It also confronts me with my own way of being greedy: I think I need more than I do.  I also realize that by always wanting “cheap as possible” – good economics notwithstanding – my spending habit is for my own benefit; someone’s got to pay what it costs – why should it be the producer?)  Hope hands me opportunities: I can choose to accept responsibility to take those small actions that I can take to make Hope happen in Real Life. Or not, and keep wishing.

The thing about Hope is requires patience; the reality is that the Hope is never complete.  It is both now, and yet to come.  I will never see it fully realized – bad word – but it will never happen unless I add my efforts.

I find that very empowering.  “We are inherently important and included [in the Big Picture] yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance.”*  In other words ‘it’s not all about me but without me it cannot be’ – how Hope-full is that?!

So what is your heart’s deepest hope?  And what moves are you making while you wait for it to happen?   It matters, because “what we do with our lives depends on what we’re hoping for…”**

*Richard Rohr Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, 2008

** Jim Strathdee “Waiting for the Kingdom of God” from album In Loving Partnership, 1983. Reproduced under OneLicense A-721869

Hope in small lights

The other day I was working in my office with a lovely west-facing window and wondered why “all of a sudden” the room was so dark….”Must be a cloud over the sun, after all it’s not even 5 o’clock yet”.  Ah, yes. The final weeks of November and first ones of December always catch me off-guard.  How can it get this dark this early??

Yes, I know it’s about orbits, axis shirts and seasonal cycles, but it still holds my imagination and wonder.  And Awe.  And truthfully, not a little fear…I admit I’m intimidated by rural driving in the pitch black.  Then I turn on the coloured lights on the evergreen outside my front window.  Ah, yes.  Small lights make big differences.

Those lights often encouraged me in my spiritual life this week.  I was so frustrated by the news: dwarfing of remembrance of some events (like the 28th anniversary of the intentional hunting of women at École Polytechnique in Montréal) in light of others (the Olympic Committee’s response to athletes of only one nation who cheated to win). That got more airtime than reports of ongoing bombing and fighting in the Levant.  There was more efforts to downplay the claims by those targeted for abuse and harassment because of gender – 1989 all over again.  Then there was That Announcment by the USA formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel – despite international law about occupation, UN policies on “international cities”, not to mention a seemingly flagrant indifference for consequences in terms of disregard of general human and minority rights in the occupied part of East Jerusalem, not to mention geo-political consequences.   It seems that the clouds of reason have darkened the sun…it is too early for “all hell to break loose” – lights


And that’s when those little coloured lights start to remind me of the underlying truth of all festivities this month: there are little pricks of light in the darkness, and taken together can make something beautiful.  Whether that’s in Romeo Saganash’s speaking Cree in the House of Commons on behalf of Bill C-252, or groups that gather to encourage one another in the hope and vision that if we all were treat every person in our community (and globe) as if they were family, kin, there would be no greed or need and peace would reign.  Or that with a birth of one child a new world order of justice and peace begins.  Or that through unseen collaboration one small vial of oil can light sacred space for 8 days.  Or gathering enough food for many families to make merry, one can, one box at a time.  Miracles of light in a world where darkness casts its pall.

We may curse the darkness.  But we can also show the small light of Hope that each of us carries.  Together we can make a beautiful place, and “say to the darkness ‘we beg to differ.’”*   So thanks, Spirit, tonight, it’s not quite so dark.


*quote attributed to Mary Jo Leddy, 1990 book of that title

Thanks to for the photo.