This time of year makes me think of my own teachers and how they have affected my understanding of
awe and wonder. I hope that this year’s teachers, whoever and wherever they are, will encourage and
value whatever awe and wonder their students or they themselves experience.
I hope that we all will have more transcendent experiences, exceptional experiences that are really
impossible to put into words and will remember what such experiences feel like. For me, this means
moving out of our small selves into our larger selves which are part of a different sort of time which is
sometimes called ‘God’s time’ or ‘Kairos time.’
Some of my teachers made me aware that transcendent experiences are large, the way joy and love are
large. One of these teachers was my teacher of spiritual direction, Donald Grayston. Don began The
Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Formation, a training program for people who feel
called to be soul friends or spiritual directors. As he told us, ‘Good teachers teach themselves.’ I think
he meant that they teach us what the teacher’s own life is like. Don was my spiritual director as well as
my teacher and he, with gentle humility, showed me what his life was like.
I graduated from the Toronto jubilee Program in 1994. In the years from 1990 till 1994, Don allowed me
to write whatever I had in my heart for the many assignments in the course, as long as I made good use
of the assigned reading material.
I was grieving. My father, eldest brother and mother all had died, one at a time, in the period just
before I began the course with Don. I graduated from Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, with a
Master of Divinity degree in 1991. The spaciousness with which I was allowed to write those papers for
Don was one of the best gifts I have ever received.
Don had no favorites among his students. He treated all of us with respect and tried to give us what we
needed to become the best versions of ourselves. ‘Spacious’ is perhaps my favourite descriptive word
for the transcendence I experienced in writing those papers. For me, transcendence means that we get
out of our own way, out of our smaller ego-selves and into our larger-selves, which choose to reach for
heaven and stretch joyfully. ‘Lightness’ and ‘light’ are involved but so is thoughtful reading and
understanding. It is creative spaciousness.
Don was a learned teacher, a scholar and an Anglican priest. He was the most important and most well
educated soul friend I have ever been privileged to work with. He defined what the terms meant to me.
Don wrote at least two books of memoir and many learned scholarly papers which were published. He
wrote and spoke about social justice issues in ways that mattered. He was a beloved teacher and
mentor to many.
About five years before his death in 2017, Don wrote what he called, ‘A Heart Will.’ I believe that he
sent this out to all his students, or as many of us as he could find. I keep my copy close to me. He calls
what he has written ‘insights.’ These are the words he sent to us with his ‘Heart Will.’
‘I bequeath them to you now, dear friends, at the end of my life, in the hope that they may shed
some useful light on your path. As I do so, I send them out with profound gratitude for the help
you have given me as I have walked my own path. Love, Don Grayston.’
I believe he would bequeath these insights to any people who want to become the best versions of
themselves. I think he would be glad I am sharing them with you.
All Don’s insights in the ‘Heart Will’ are wonderful but my favourite is: #3. Include and Transcend.
The gist of it is : ‘… I include my Christian identity in a larger spiritual identity which permits me, with
Thomas Merton as a tremendous model, to encounter others primarily as human beings rather than
persons identified in a limiting sense with their traditions of origin.’ (A Heart Will,’ by Donald Edward
I cannot tell you how many times this insight bequeathed by Don has enabled me to transcend myself to
be someone larger and wiser than I otherwise might be. It is a very light-filled and spacious insight.
Don encouraged me to write poems and also to work at getting them published. A few months before
he died I showed him, ‘The Way Things Are is Large,’ in Poems for the Journey, on page 19 and ‘There is
an Opening, a Door,’ on page 25. He was supportive and thanked me for sharing with him.
Many of the poems in Poems~Poemas and Poems for the Journey came out of my feelings of awe and
wonder. I hope you honor your own feelings of transcendence wherever you go.
All good things to you as the school year begins and always.
There is exciting understanding coming into our consciousness about what many people call ‘Our New Creation Story.’ The talk is about the film footage coming across our television screens from the James Webb Space Telescope this past summer. The talk is about elementary particles, flashing then fluttering into existence out of a realm of nothingness. We are talking about the attraction called allurement between particles, which can also be waves. We are amazed that fluctuations give rise to the formation of atoms, which then come together as stars which then create all the elements of the universe and release them. We wonder at the meaning and implications of the words ‘radiance’ and ‘allurement.’ We wonder how we can participate in interrelationship with our fellow earth community of brothers and sisters.
Do you remember or know about the song Joni Mitchell sang at Woodstock :
‘We are stardust, billion year old carbon… We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden?’
In the mid 1980s, I and my friend and seminary classmate, Valerie, attended two summer workshops over a period of a very few years, at what was then the Roman Catholic Passionist Retreat Center at Port Burwell on Lake Erie. Cosmologist, Brian Swimme, Theologian, Thomas Berry and then Dominican priest, Matthew Fox, gave talks over a week-end. These three eminent thinkers and leaders were there just hanging out with each other and also with some people lucky enough to know about them.
I was one of the lucky persons. My husband and our family lived in North York, Toronto, a few blocks from the Passionist Centre there which was called ‘The Centre for Creative Ministries.’ Port Burwell is just down the road a few miles from our family summer cottage at Port Stanly. The Centre was sold to a private family a few years later. When my friend and I were there, the group all ate our meals together, no more than 35 people. The sleeping accommodations were separate small cottages spread out over the sandy landscape.
My wonderful spiritual director for many years, Eldon Shields, and his wife, Marcella, worked out of ‘The Centre for Creative Ministries’ in North York. Through an enormous stroke of Grace, Valerie and I were welcomed into the group those two weekends.
All three of the presenters at those workshops have been major contributors to the movement towards ‘Ecological Consciousness,’ which Brian Swimme calls ‘Integral Consciousness.’ He and others say that we are in the process of waking up to ‘Cosmic Consciousness.’
All three of these leaders are writers contributing to the growth of our understanding of ‘The Cosmic or Integral Consciousness Movement.’ Here is a list of the most recent of their books which I have read and recommend heartily:
- Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story Revised. by Brian Swimme, 2019.
- Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack. by Matthew Fox 2022.
- The Great Work: Our Way Into The future. by Thomas Berry.
In my book, Poems for the Journey, 2021, the little poem, ‘Waves,’ on pages 13,14, uses some of the words of Particle Physics in a playful way. I hope you enjoy the poem.
This line, which can be useful every day, is from American poet and painter, e.e. cummings:
Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love if the stars walk backward.
The 1990s were some of the years when I learned most about loving relationship. We lived in Denver,
Colorado and then Scottsdale, Arizona.
Early on, my hairdresser, who was friends with ‘ puppeteer’ Jim Hensen, suggested that I volunteer
with Colorado AIDS Project, a dynamic local organization that helped people living with HIV/AIDS join in
community with people living with the same disease and also with people who wanted to walk with
them. I was a volunteer who gave support to the volunteers who were ‘buddies’ to people who wanted
a ‘buddy.’ As a new volunteer, I filled out the same questionnaire everyone did. I noticed that, like
most people there that day, I had left behind community and was seeking a place of respect where
participating in loving relationship might be possible. We all knew that we would be sharing in the
suffering of others and also our own suffering. It was a community.
My experience with those volunteers and the people they were walking beside was extremely powerful
for me. I witnessed depth of love, bravery, faithfulness, kindness, respect and hope which I will
remember always. At the same time I was involved with Colorado AIDS Project, I was volunteering
through the Methodist Church teaching ‘English as a Second Language’ to legal and illegal Spanish
speakers. My experience with Colorado AIDS project was opening my heart and mind to a larger
understanding of freedom and loving participation in suffering. I was with people I could care about.
Another experience of witnessing loving relationship in Denver was my friendship with Sister Mary Luke
Tobin, one of Denver’s beloved and well known people. She had been the only American woman invited
to attend VaticanTwo. My spiritual director in Toronto had asked her to meet me.
We became very good friends. Age and status were not considerations at all. She was in her 80’s and
90’s when I knew her and I was able to witness the way she was always fully present to every person
she met. She was vulnerable to who they were. It was disarming for people. She asked me to drive her
to events at which she was speaking and to meetings with other people active in the Peace Movement
or other activities she was involved with. (She laughed when she confessed to me that she liked me to
drive her because some of the other people who wanted to drive her were not good drivers.)
Mary Luke was a very effective story teller. I wrote a poem telling of her sharing a story with me about a
priest who had died that week in Denver and another priest who had been sent out from the east to be
with the dying man through a time of suffering until the end of his life. It is a story of coming to
consciousness about what largeness love is. I hope you enjoy it.
Travelling with Sister Mary Luke Tobin,’ Poems for the Journey, p.1
Also, I remember that great song, ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’?’ It is a good song to sing.
We were in Buena Vista over Memorial Day Weekend on the first warm day of the year as a party of six –
– four senior adult people, two couples, and our friends’ two dogs. The older dog was a senior chocolate
lab and the other a young black lab and pointer mix. We were all respectfully friendly with the young
and older hikers we met on the trails. They were all extraordinarily outgoing and welcoming to us. It
was remarkable to me, a Canadian living in British Columbia. I admired the outgoing energy of these
beautiful people in their late afternoon activity.
When we all reached the parking lot below, a boy of 8 or 9 was standing near our vehicle holding a
white and red toy assault weapon. He was watching us. He wore an unattractive grin on his face. We
saw the boy raise his plastic AR-15 toy to his shoulder. He fired at the adults first – streams of red light
which landed on us one after the other in a rush. Then he shot the dogs.
I looked around to see if there was a second toy shooter in sight. If there was a second shooter I
couldn’t see him. Perhaps his brother was out of sight. I saw a group of people who might have been
the boy’s parents. I thought of going and speaking with them but instantly knew that would not be the
appropriate thing to do.
Instead, I am writing this piece and thinking of how like the 18 or 19 year old shooters of real AR-15
grown ups’ assault weapons we see in TV footage these days move like this 8 or 9 year old boy.
Auden’s tribute to Herman Melville says:
Evil is unspectacular and always human,
and shares our bed and eats at our table.
I hope that the boy we saw that sunny day will have some experience which will make him want to
work towards peace. I hope he meets people with fire in their hearts about peace. Perhaps peace will
come to him on the wind in the mystery of love.
See my poem titled ‘Peace’ in English and ‘Paz’ in Spanish on pages 80 and 81 in Poems~Poemas.