Member Testimonies

              Where You Haunt
    (Written during the Harvest Moon.)

long ago you decided
it had to be worth the journey,
long ago having chosen
what lights to carry with you & where
& what would be the places you would haunt.

you knew where your footsteps should take you,
& you knew what powers to call to you,
& you knew what beings to consider your friends.

now all along the constellations.
with a moon by turns hidden & revealed
in a sky of amiable passing clouds,
the world tonight is as it always was –
some creatures living, others dead,
among new trees & old,
among waxing & waning blossoms
as the world approaches
the season of the crone.

now you walk to receive the gifts of this world,
& you live in broad strokes, ever going
forward through forest & shadow
with unknown companions
but on chosen & familiar roads.

by moonlight or lamplight,
it really doesn’t matter,
in darkness the world becomes more real
& shadows define themselves
into their true meaning.

your job is to discern shadow,
to delve into what’s not said,
to ride a wind that’s not there
& to imagine worlds into being.
your job, determined long ago,
is etched into the places that you haunt,
mirrored in your footsteps, outlined
with your breath on the night wind.

you walk, & the gifts come upon you,
you turn towards the darkening sky
& welcome the autumn winds closing in,
welcome the chariots of night.

darkness reveals a certain depth,
& the quiet grows deeper
& looks towards the longest nights,
where you know what the questions are
& how to find the searchlights
& gather the animal helpers
& call to the unbidden wind.

journeys ever beginning, never ending,
never an answer, always going deeper,
but that is the world you chose for yourself,
long ago, as a way to grow old,
ever asking the questions,
never settling on unsettled ground,
nor settling on solid ground,
knowing solid does not exist in this world,

when long ago you decided
it had to be worth the journey.

       © Helen Iacovino

This poem was included in a service package for International Women’s Day 2019 compiled by the Canadian Unitarian Universalist Women’s Association (CUUWA) on the theme of “Journey”.

A Creed

“This is really not my testimony, but that of my father who wrote it in 1971 when he was 85 years of age. I came across it when I was belatedly going through some of his papers. I had never seen it before, but I found it very interesting so I made a copy for Shawn, and he thought I should share it with the whole congregation. You will find some of his thoughts questionable, controversial and even radical. But don’t take me to task over it. I’m only the messenger!”

Toward the close of a fairly active life, I feel a strong desire to put on record the convictions or lack of convictions I hold today. These have undergone great changes over the course of the years. Very briefly, I would like to deal with three subjects: faith, life after death, and the existence of God.

The Church demands faith. It demands that I shall accept unconditionally certain doctrines which I find incredible, contrary to the natural scheme of things, and to my mind, false. So I say to the man in the pulpit: “What PROOF can you offer me?” He WILL, he MUST, reply that his authority is the Holy Bible, which is the word of the Living God.

However he will offer me a bribe and a threat: a bribe, that if I accept his doctrine, I shall earn Eternal Happiness in Heaven. A threat that if I do not accept his doctrine, I shall live in eternal torment in Hell.

And I shall reply that I am not impressed by his bribe or his threat, and I disbelieve his ability to deliver the goods. If his sole authority is the Bible, I assert that this is no authority at all, for the following reasons:

  • The Bible is nothing more than a mixture of history and folk lore of the Jewish people. It is often contradictory. It is often immoral by our standards. It paints God in most unfavourable colours – an irascible, jealous and cruel despot. God as painted in the Jewish Bible, commits acts which no one today would condone, for instance:
  • He puts people to death for trivial misdemeanours – Onan in the Old Testament and Anan/ias in the New Testament. Note that Ananias was put to death for lying, yet when Peter thrice denied that he knew Jesus, he gets off scot-free.
  • He tortures Abraham in his old age by ordering him to butcher his son Isaac. Then at the last moment, he stops the murder. He creates Adam and Eve and endows them with – say – 5 ounces of temptation, and when they succumb – which is inevitable – he punishes them and all future generations, when the fault is God’s.
  • He dreams up an irrational scheme of things, in which all men must go to Hell unless his own Son shall be put to death in a horrible manner. Almighty and most merciful God!
  • If the Bible is the preacher’s only authority, then his doctrine has no foundation at all, and I reject it. If, with regard to life after death, survival physical, mental or spiritual, I do not have a firm conviction. Most religions offer a future life, but this universal belief could be due to universal wishful thinking. For Christians, a heaven with music, for Muslims, a state of sexual gratification, for Indians a Happy Hunting Ground. I feel that the scheme of things is total extinction after death, and Man could hardly be an exception. If Man is descended from the animal world, at what point of evolution did he acquire an after-life?

    Yet, man does differ fundamentally from the rest of the animal world. He has mental capacities, self-consciousness and something else that I call his soul. It is something so unique that its destiny may also be unique.

    I do not desire an afterlife for myself, but I would hesitate to affirm that I do not believe in it.

    With regard to the existence of God, I am wholly convinced that this intricate Universe could neither have come into existence, nor continue to function without a Guiding Spirit. The courses of the stars and planets in the heavens, Life and Reproduction, the human brain – these things could not have been born by blind chance. Given billions or trillions of years, without a Guiding Spirit, all would be chaos.

    I cannot conceive what this Guiding Spirit is, and above all, what its purpose can be. My mind is finite and incapable of grappling with things infinite. There is nothing to prove that the purpose and future plans of the Guiding Spirit favour the future of the human race, but of its existence I have no doubt. Proof of its existence surrounds us.

    I cannot pray to such a spirit, so I do not pray at all. Actually, I do not feel the need of a protecting deity. The Human Race has managed its affairs very badly¸ but at least it manages them unaided and uninfluenced by any outside power.

    Yet, if my argument is logical, it fails to explain the hold that churches, synagogues and temples have on most human beings. Thousands more gifted and more intelligent than myself, with better trained minds and the courage to think for themselves ,- all these still believe in the age-old doctrines of their forefathers. Men of high intelligence have gone to the stake for their faith, and what greater proof is there of their sincerity.

    Frankly, I envy them this faith, but I cannot share it.

    Walter Sachs, July 1971   Age 85         

    Love & Justice In Action

    Good Morning Everyone!

    I am grateful to be given the opportunity to share a testimony with you on my life as an activist. In keeping with the theme of change, an activist is, simply put, a change agent. A change agent has a vision and values to live by. My vision? – a locally sourced, publicly controlled, green, sharing economy! My values? - love and justice in action! Social action is described as ‘what love looks like in public,’ by African American educator Cornel West. A just love would bring about “a world in one piece/peace.” This was Eryl Court’s favourite saying. Eryl, a lifelong U.U. peace activist, died last month in her 94th year. Eryl embodied love. I am sure she died as peacefully as she lived. Today’s requiem is dedicated to Eryl.

    I offer you a brief snapshot of an impressionable period in my life. I came of age in the mid-sixties. It was a time of great spiritual, societal and political change. In Quebec, it was dubbed the ‘Quiet Revolution’. In 1968, our newly elected Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a charismatic intellectual, waxed eloquently on ‘the Just Society’. He also observed, "If Canada is to survive, it can only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another." Heady words for an idealistic 15 year old! Sadly, fewer ears were listening to Chief Dan George’s “Lament for Confederation’ on Canada’s 100th birthday. We know better now.

    That same year, I was voted Miss Congeniality by my grade nine class. Psychologically speaking, my friendly nature was based, not just on trust, which is hugely important in any relationship, but also on a survival instinct, as in safety and strength in numbers. Whatever the reasons, the end result is social cohesion and a sense of belonging. All for one and one for all! As an adult ESL teacher to new Canadians, I extended the same welcoming ways to my students and soon found myself politically engaged in refugee rights. No One is Illegal! is a network and rallying cry for asylum seekers, similar to the words we share each Sunday, ‘You belong here because you are here!’ Social justice groupie that I am, one justice cause led to another over the years and now I’m an official senior citizen activist and honorary Raging Granny. Civil disobedience is only one aspect of what we do. It’s the ‘civil’ discourse and ‘civil’ behaviour amongst ourselves, sorely lacking in many quarters today, that make our various solidarity actions successful. We all need to improve on our active listening skills.

    At the age of 66, I no longer have the energy level, nor the eyes of my youth, but I’m the same idealist and multi-issue-oriented person I’ve always been and continue to be as President of Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice. Our keynote speaker on May 12th in Shaw Hall, is Toronto author, artist and poet, Joyce Nelson. Her latest book is Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule. As I see it, there are two urgent realities we must address, #1. the environment – climate change is an existential crisis, whether we bury our heads in the oil sands or not, and #2. the economy, that isn’t working for anyone, including the 1%. We need an eco-economic system that puts the earth first, and the financial system last. As my dear elder activist friend, Ann Emmett, puts it, ‘We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.’ There is hope when we act and there are amazing blueprints for change, such as the Leap Manifesto. Since I have run out of precious time, I ask you to check out 15 year old Greta Thunberg’s latest call to action on YouTube.

    Why I say “Yes” to First

    There are so many ways I could tell you about why I say “yes” to First. But to keep it simple, I say “yes” to First because of how First has said “yes” to me… and how the love and commitment and hope this community has provided to me over the past 23 years has virtually saved my life. Back then, to the casual observer my life was good…wonderful husband and kids, great job, friends… but inside I was dying from an extreme case of paralysis of heart and soul. I longed for a deeper connection, not just with others but with myself. I felt disconnected, insecure, irrelevant and unworthy... I was uncomfortable in my own skin but terrified of what I would find if I went below the surface.

    Arriving here, I was particularly affected by the statement often used to set the context for the covenant…that First was a “community of love, commitment and hope”. I determined that I would put this assertion to the test.

    And so, I plundered all of First’s resources and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way:

  • First became my secret laboratory where I experimented with pushing the edges of my fears;
  • First was my playground where my attempts at creativity were accepted with enthusiasm and grace;
  • First provided me with tutorials on spirituality and awareness, deep listening and vulnerability;
  • First was my master class in building relationships and taking risks… and when I made mistakes, where I was forgiven again and again and… ongoingly … again…
  • First gave me the courage to discover and value my authentic self and to be that person in the world. First really did save my life.

    There is one more gift I have received from First… my voice… not my singing voice, alas… but the confidence to stand here and speak to you … which I have done a number of times, in a variety of roles over these many years. My most cherished role though, is as Worship Leader, when on a Sunday morning I have the joy of looking out at all of your beautiful faces … this really is the best spot in the house.

    When I speak with gratitude of how First saved my life, I am actually speaking of each and every one of you… because you are First … we are First …each one of us creates this community of love and commitment and hope…this community of First Unitarian that means so much to us all.

    This morning there is someone else who would like to add her perspective to my testimony… and to say a few words of her own, my sister, Rosemary:

    Observing my sister develop in her relationship with First over the past 23 years — experiencing her wonderful personal warmth and humour blossoming.. has been such a joy for me and has given me a real sense of the importance of this community. Something transformative happened to her from her connection with all the people, the music, her community involvement at First: all things I value too.

    I live in New Brunswick—but thanks to the Sunday services on You Tube, my connection to First has also grown stronger … I am immediately connected and feel at home.

    So, I too say “Yes” to First-- as an experience that goes beyond the simple requirements of faith. I say “yes” to First, because this community welcomes and enriches with an open heart and a thoughtful mind, no matter where you are.

    Good morning. When my perpetual internal questioner asked “Why Me?”, I decided it was time to share what saying yes to this community means to me.

    Coming to First, I said yes to my mother who asked me to join her singing in the choir, because she wanted company and I wanted to be with her, deepening our relationship.

    I said yes to Shawn when he invited me to become a member, because my history, values, beliefs and actions were consistent with this congregation’s mission.

    And to Nancy and Terry Lee, who asked me to help fund David Foot, a speaker at the CUC conference in Toronto, I said yes because I am a fellow academic committed to better understanding our social-ecological world and its impact on our health and well-being.

    I also said yes to Ellen Campbell, who suggested I strengthen connections with East African UU congregations, because I travelled often and could share their struggles and joys with our congregation.

    To Peter Brydon, who asks regularly for choir members to bring snack, I said yes so we can share fellowship. And to Tanya Cothran, who organized a virtual Journey Group, I said yes to a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of monthly themes, from wherever we were in the world To Karen Dunk-Green, who asked me to consider pledging more each year, I said yes because this congregation supports struggling members of our city. I have also said yes to resident musicians, who invite us to hear their music on line and support them is their work, as I appreciate their creativity To Paul Bognar, who asked me to be a worship leader, I said yes so I could be with myself and you all in a deeper way, and with Catherine Lake, I agreed to share this testimony, to reveal how First has become a bedrock for my being in this wonderful, crazy world.

    Saying yes to First has meant so much to me that I am going to renew my annual pledge to First this pledge season. May saying yes do so for you as well as you consider how Yes Lives Here at First Unitarian. Be generous as your means allow to support all we do here together and all that First nurtures within.

    The offering that we take each Sunday isn't just habit — like the annual pledge campaign, it's an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. 

    Each offering is an affirmation — a “yes.” 

    When we give, we say yes to something we value. 

    With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. 

    May our offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation.  

    Will the ushers please come forward to receive our contributions.