Making Meaning (August Discussion)

Follow up to the August 13 TED Talk

On August 13th, we explored how language shapes the way we think and had the chance to engage with the topic of cross-cultural communication as a group.  Thank you to those who attended this very interesting discussion. Below are the links to the two videos that we viewed:

  • 3 ways to speak English | Jamila Lyiscott 
  •  How language shapes the way we think | Lera Boroditsky 

If you are interested in exploring the world of TED talks, here is the link: . 

Creativity and Imagination (April 2019)

Our theme for April began with Caroline Balderston Parry speaking to the topic of Practicing the Art of Creative Living.

In her Sermon, Caroline referenced the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous professor of biology and environmental science. It is also quite beautifully narrated by The author herself, and Caroline has been doing more listening to the book than reading it .

If you would like to try the Audio book, here is a link to try Audible and get it there.

Caroline also mentioned a really fabulous and disturbing exhibit (Kent Monkman’s “Shame… Prejudice” at the McCord Museum in Montreal) that she believes everybody should see. It runs through May 5.

Kent Monkman

Kent Monkman, Cash for Souls, 2016.

Meaning (May and June)

Reading – “Angst” from the book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman

A tale about important work, vacations, and the meaning of meaninglessness:

The Origin of the Nobel Peace Prize – Ted Talk

A background look at the Nobel Peace Prize – where it came from and how it’s chosen.

The Future of the Nobel Prices – It’s Okay to be Smart

The Channel It’s Okay to Be Smart outlines some of the issues related to the Nobel Prize.

Faith (April)

Faith and Trust are central pillars of a healthy spiritual community, emboldening us to openly seek out the new, while also recognizing our need to feel safe.

A story of Apollo 13

Amy Shira Teitel tells a short account of the Apollo 13 mission – its failures, successes, and learning opportunities.

You can also watch the movie Apollo 13 on Canadian Netflix.

Hands-on – Perpetual Test Flights

Find how John Collins embraces failure as an opportunity to make amazing paper airplanes – from a record-breaking plane, to a others that do really cool stuff!

Get ready for some intense folding!  It might take some practice and time – and much experimentation!

More Space Talk – from Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Commander Chris Hadfield lays out the risks and the excitement of space exploration.

Video – Norton I, Emperor of the United States (and Protector of Mexico)

Biography Article – Emperor Norton I

The inspiring story of an unconventional monarch:

Justice and Activism (March)

Lotta Hitschmanova and USC Canada

Here’s a bio of Lotta Hitschmanova, from the USC Canada website:

More Unitarian Histories of Justice and Activism

Learn about Emily Stowe – one of the first women physicians in Canada and a suffragist:

And a short biography of Joseph Workman, reformer in psychiatry and founder of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto:


Remembering a UU Historian

As we learn about our tradition of Justice and Activism – and more deeply about the history of Unitarian Universalism – Rev. Phillip Hewett took a main part in telling our story.

Rev. Phillip Hewett died last month – and shortly before his death, the Unitarian Church of Vancouver presented him with a biographical booklet, celebrating many highlights of his lives.

View the booklet here!:

Self-Reflection (February)

This month we’re making space to consider how we can strengthen our own spiritual practice, by allowing time and effort in considering what is special to us — and how that connects us to all that is larger than ourselves.


Link – The Empty Chalice – Rev. Fiona Heath

Rev. Fiona Heath is the minister at the First Unitarian Congregation of Mississauga, and she draws much inspiration from the image of the empty space left by clay vessel:

Video – 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation – Celeste Headlee (TED)

A professional overview on how to be a more present listener:


Comic – How Can You Help a Grieving Friend? – Brittany Bilyeu

Don’t know what to say to someone in grief?  This comic strip offers some guidance – it helpful during or outside of holiday seasons:

How can you help a grieving friend during the holidays?


Article – Here’s how you can connect to friends who are depressed – TED

One person’s witness on their experience with depression – and what they find most helpful when others are seeking to connect:

Here’s how you can connect to friends who are depressed


Covenant (January)

A key aspect of our Unitarian Universalist tradition is that we are non-creedal – which is to say that we do not identify our faith by one particular set of beliefs.  Instead, our community is built around Covenant – a set of promises around how we seek to live in right relationship with each other.
Our best-known Covenant is our commitment to affirm and promote our Seven Principles, which outline our main approaches to each other, to our institutions, and to our interdependent web of existence   We also create covenants for our specific communities, or even for specific gatherings, to outline expectations, guide accountability, and inspire community.
On Sundays this month, we’ve been deepening our understanding of this heritage and practice.  And outside of Sundays, you can also engage in this exploration by taking the theme home with this Themes page.
–Rev. Rod

Article – The Faces of Climate Change – CBC

A reminder of our covenant with the interrelated web of existence, including the people who live in the North:

Video – Truth and Trees – Ted-Ed

Music – Some Metal with a Classical Twist

A classic viral video with a new take on Pachelbel’s Canon in D

Reading – The Rules of the Game – Carl Sagan

A chapter from Sagan’s Billions & Billions outlining the ethical intricacies of the “Metal Rules”

Posted by The Universe of Carl on Friday, 12 July 2013


Article – The Platinum Rule – Psychology Today

…and an alternative “Metal Rule” with more nuance:


Solemnity & Play (December)

Video – Measuring the Year – Soliloquy

This choose-your-own-adventure video gives you several options on how we can measure the length of a year.

Playful Article – The True Meaning of Christmas (That Everyone Forgets) – David Wong

David Wong, from the humour site offers a touching and playful reflection on the spirit of the holidays.  Its juvenile humour includes some… colourful language – so be advised!

Did you miss Robin’s Reflection on December 10?

Here’s a chance to revisit it!

Reflecting on Solemnity, Using Tarot

Solemnity stops time. It offers us a moment to inhabit, a respite to get our bearings, a
chance to acknowledge a hardship or an accomplishment before we are on to the next one.
Solemnity can carry a memory of the past into the present or set an intention for the future.
But solemnity can also take us out of linear or historical time and give us a sense of
timelessness, or a perspective on what Julia Kristeva calls monumental time. In contrast to
historical time, monumental time marks the seasons and cycles of one individual’s life,
especially (she argues) in the experience of women.

When I start to lose touch with the seasons or start to say things like, “I can’t believe it’s
already December,” I need to stop time and catch up. And when this need for solemnity strikes
me, I often turn to the tarot. This is not something I have shared with many people in my life
because it seems like such a frivolity, especially the more seriously you take it. But tarot gives
me that opportunity to check in with myself, a mirror that reflects where I am and often a
narrative to explain how I got there. For me tarot is not divination of the future so much as an
external expression of internal processes, and I usually find that the craving doesn’t strike again
until I have either fully experienced or understood the last chapter of the narrative, or until I
have gotten myself out of joint with time once again.

Historically, tarot and playing cards share the same roots. Both have four suits, face
cards, numbered cards, and exceptional cards like the Joker. I associate each tarot suit with one
of the four directions and one of the four elements. The suit of swords speaks of air and of the
east, the place of the rising sun and thus of new beginnings. Swords are sharp like the intellect
they represent, and as an intellectual, I am less uncomfortable with their bite than perhaps I
should be. Wands, the suit of the south, may be depicted as torches, for they light fires of
creativity and passion, but as an intellectual, this is the suit that I struggle to understand the
most. Cups hold water and symbolize the emotions of the west. And north is the land of
pentacles, which are golden discs or coins that represent material needs like the health of the
body or security of one’s finances. Self, or spirit, as the integration of body, emotion, passion,
and mind is what I use the tarot to reflect.

Within each suit, cards are numbered from ace to ten, and each suit has four court cards
– king, queen, knight, and page. It can be a challenge to let go quantifying, categorizing, and
rationalizing, to imagine what these cards can mean. Some speak to me more clearly than
others, for example the ace of swords can represent a new thought that is overwhelming, the
nine of wands a time when one last push of energy is required to finish a project, the page of
cups an adolescent beginning to explore self-love, and the queen of pentacles a woman who
wants the best for her body. I assume that those I have not yet embraced I simply have yet to
experience fully.

A typical tarot deck also includes a couple of dozen cards called the major arcana, which
track the journey or self-development of the fool, the first of these cards, through to his or her

integration or completion in the final card of the world. And some of these cards feel familiar,
burdensome, or opaque to me. I almost never draw the fool. The hanged man makes me
uncomfortable because I hate to wait in limbo. The tower reminds me that facades were often
built to be destroyed.

Of course, the images on the cards also appeal to the imagination, and the deck may
have a motif or theme. Mine is the mythic tarot, in which each suit tells a famous story from
Greek mythology. For example, the cups recount the relationship of Cupid and Psyche, and the
wands Jason and the golden fleece. The cards can also be laid out in a simple or elaborate
spread. One of the most basic is to draw three cards: an issue, an action, and an outcome. But
whatever the details, tarot is a recipe for layer upon layer of symbolism, and inevitably
something is going to appeal to my own sacred confirmation bias. But tarot is only as
worthwhile a spiritual practice as it is taken seriously, as a solemnity. And that is something to
be experienced more than it is to be analyzed or understood.

And so I would like to offer each of you here today a blessing for the season, drawn
from my deck of cards. It is up to you whether I am wasting your time or performing a solemn
rite. You already know the answer. I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas, we all say, so let’s find
out how we got here and what we are doing here anyway. I have drawn three cards to generate
three points in a storyline. Each of us will have a different response to these cards, and the
three cards will produce a different narrative for every reader. Remember, you may find that
the cards tell you how you got here or where you’re at rather than what comes next.
I’m going to pose a few simple questions so that you can generate some context for
each of the three cards, and I will pause for a moment to give you a chance to reflect as we go
along. First, I invite you to take a moment to locate yourself in time, whether that means
winter, your age, Christmas, 2017, or an ending. What time is it in your life right now? (Pause)
And how do you feel about that? Merry, sorrowful, rushed, at peace . . . There is no right
answer. (Pause) Finally, what do you want for Christmas? What do you wish would fill the
season or the new year?

I wrote the words that I have said so far today on a Monday in November when I
needed to stop time by communing with the elements at Le Nordik. Because guess what – tarot
is not the only form of solemnity I practice. Then, on December 1, I gave the kids their advent
calendars, dropped them off to school, and came home to a messy but quiet house to draw the
three cards for this blessing for December. Because of how they resonate with me, I am afraid
that I have skewed this communal reading toward myself, but I hope that you will see a bit of
yourselves in this mirror as well.

For the first card, I asked, “What time is it in your life right now?” And the card I drew is
from the major arcana: the moon. Its central image is a full moon reflecting down on water
below. Various depictions may include a howling wolf, a crab emerging from the water, or the
goddess Hecate, queen of the underworld, but I think the most important symbol here is the
card’s namesake, that great full moon. It is a card that represents darkness, as we head into the
darkest time of the year, but it also speaks to cycles of life, the feminine, the unconscious, and
our dreams. “What time is it in your life right now?” is a question echoed by the card itself. But
the moon may also herald a time to get in touch with your intuition. Do not, I would suggest, shove the crab back into the water, because (like any repressed fears or desires that might be
trying to surface) it can pinch.

So, you were thinking about what time it is in your life right now, a question that may
now be inflected by the rise of the moon. The second question I asked was: How do you feel
being here in this time? Well, for the second card I drew the ace of cups, which symbolizes an
initial upsurge of feeling. Imagine a giant hand reaching down from the sky, holding out to you a
goblet brimming with liquid. Perhaps this dark time of the year, or perhaps your dreams,
whatever the card of the moon symbolizes for you, will bring to you a surge of emotion. Maybe
we need to let it flow. What might we do with this new feeling? The ace of cups says that you
are ready for a journey of the emotions.

So, let’s finish the narrative with our third card. By the light of the moon, a feeling is
welling up, and what are you wishing for, I asked. Our final card is the knight of wands. So
imagine a sun-baked desert, and across it rides a young man on horseback, dressed in red and
gold. My deck gives him a winged horse; some show pyramids off in the distance. He is on a
quest, because like many of you, he is a seeker. He loves adventure, and he may be more
inspired than reliable, but he’s easy forgive, because he may be a person you encounter in real
life these days, but he is also calling to your own inner knight of wands. Perhaps the emotional
journey heralded by the ace of cups will be guided by a seeker of inspiration, creativity, and
passion. Maybe it’s time I lay down my sword and follow him.

So, this is my December tarot blessing for all of us: in the dark of winter and the dark of
night, may you feel all your feelings, and may the new year bring new adventures. And if tarot is
not the solemnity for you, then may you find your own opportunity to stop time, reflect, and
welcome all the parts of yourself home.

Video – Solstices Explained

As we celebrate the approaching Winter Solstice, here is a playful explanation of their origin – along with appreciation of the beauty they offer to our planet!

Story Book – This is a Serious Book

Contributed by Andrea Young

A solemnly playful story for all ages!


December is a time full of festivals and holidays. These are opportunities to contemplate the passing of time, to consider our place in the world, and to spend with people dear to us – weighty matters that go to the heart of who we are!

These are solemn questions, balanced by the playfulness that go with them – we take these occasions seriously… and we have fun with them, finding joy as we seek deeper understanding.

Outside of Sundays, we can Take the Theme Home with these resources, as we share this search together.
–Rev. Rod

Article – The Importance of Play (The Atlantic)

The Atlantic makes its case for Play:

Video – More Than Fun (TED Talk)

And, if you prefer to watch, here’s Stuart Brown giving a serious talk about Play.

Comic – Play-by-Play (XKCD)

Ever wonder what the game of baseball looks like to an outsider?  Here’s one take on it:


Theme for November – Healing the Spirit

Film – My Life as a Dog

Contributed by Pat Lucey

An endearing tale of a 12-year-old boy who seeks healing as he copes with challenges in his life.  Available through the Ottawa Public Library, via Kanopy streaming:

Featured Author – Dr. Paula Reeves

Contributed by Nancy Rubenstein

Want to find out more about “the heart’s intelligence”?  You can explore the wisdom of Dr. Paula Reeves in her site:

Poem – Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Contributed by Lorna Erickson-Fraser

Article – Canada’s Impossible Acknowledgement – The New Yorker

An outside perspective on the value – and challenges – around land acknowledgements in Canada:

Article – The Invisible Workload that Drags Women Down – Time

Exposing one way in which invisible workloads affect genders differently:


Feeding Our Awareness – Menu

As we move into our theme of Healing the Spirit in November, we have a full course of resources to feed our awareness on our ongoing conversations on racial justice and anti-oppression, which are central to our prophetic role at the Fellowship.

To help us be well-fed for our Teach-in on White Supremacy on November 5, here is a menu of short, digestible resources.  This is a full buffet of different media, including a generous helping of Canadian content!  Help yourself to single servings, or try out the entire menu!


Appetizer: a sweetly accessible analogy of Tallness and Privilege (3-minute Read) explaining privilege with a palatable dash of humour.

Side-dish: a spicy video explaining that nebulous term – Intersectionality – with a feminist flavour (4-minute Watch).  It is seasoned for a younger palate, but will intrigue the more adventurous gourmands.


Canadian Combo: Looking for a Canadian experience?  Try out this sampler by Robyn Maynard, offering a powerful blend of Black Lives’ Experience in Canada (8-Minute Read)

And by our chefs from CBC Radio, you can savour this interview of Dr Nell Irvin Painter (33-Minute Listen)

Take-out Option: In a hurry?  Take it to go!  This Article of the Interview with Dr Nell Irvin Painter (3-minute Read) will give you a taste of her main points.


Prix Fixe: A specialty of the House – our own Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed has a rich overview on The History of Black Lives in the UU Tradition (40-Minute Read – UUA Article), adapted from his Minns Lecture earlier this year.

For a fuller experience, you can also watch the Original Lecture – simply click on the link and choose the option for Minns Lecture 1.  You can pick-and-choose to watch the Lecture Only (54-minute Watch) or get add on the works, with the Full Video (1h47m Watch), including the Q&A session at the end.


Dessert: Still curious?  Top up your awareness feed with this Confection (15-Minute Read) by Lori Lakin Hutcherson.

Bon appétit!