In the Orchard

In the Orchard

November 2nd, 2014        Rev. Fiona Heath

There is an old joke about the difference between the chicken and the pig in a bacon and egg sandwich.  The chicken is involved but the pig is committed.

This is not kind of commitment I wish to speak on today. Yesterday at the installation service we sang “Fire of Commitment.” While the idea of commitment often makes us feel rather like the pig  – a little too all in – our hymn reminds us that commitment can be a positive force in our lives.

I am not going to sing but I will speak the chorus:

When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze;

when our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way;

when we live with deep assurance of the faith that burns within;

then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.

I like this sense of commitment – not as dreary obligation –

but as motivation.

The place where our soul is ablaze with the desire to move forward,

To work for a future that realizes the best in ourselves.

I find this compelling.

Commitment is an act of definition.

Commitment – to love, to work, to a good cause – shapes our spirits.

When we give ourselves to what matters to us,

we are creating ourselves,

defining the limits of our lives.

Once we have made this kind of joyful commitment, once we have decided to dedicate ourselves to something, life changes.

Scottish writer W.H. Murray on one of his great adventures:

“... but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter.

We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts.

We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth,

the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself,

then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no [person] could have dreamt would have come [their] way.

I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Murray knew what he was talking about.

He was taken prisoner during World War II and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp.

A passionate mountaineer, he chose to write a book about climbing the mountains of Scotland.

On the only paper available to him: toilet paper.

The guards discovered his work and destroyed his manuscript.

Undeterred, Murray wrote it all over again. On toilet paper.

This draft survived the prison camp and after the war it was published to great acclaim.

He continued to climb and write and was a leader in modern mountaineering.

Murray is an example of the power of commitment.

With his passion for mountaineering, he believed he had something to share.

The war only slowed him down from what he considered his true work.

And after writing a full length book on narrow strips of rough paper,

only to have it destroyed by the guards, he wrote it all over again.

While his wartime experiences suggest that commitment was a hard and lonely slog, an act of grand perseverance in the face of harsh conditions,

I think that his passion for mountains kept his soul ablaze in conditions of despair.

While Murray could have seen himself as a prisoner, he defined himself as a mountaineer.

And that made all the difference.

When Murray writes of commitment, he sees it as the beginning of forward motion,

a choice which begins a flow of activity all oriented towards that commitment.

Commitment is a positive act that allows the unimportant to fall away.

It doesn`t stop obstacles like the Nazis, but the fire of commitment burnt a path around them.

Commitment enhances life.

Commitment makes possible many of the things that matter most.

Commitment to a partner gives us deep love.

Commitment to learning an art form shapes our creativity.

Commitment to learning a trade or intellectual discipline gives us good work.

Commitment to a religious community provides a depth of connection.

As each of us learns more about Unitarian Universalism,

and to reflect on our own lives in terms of its values of respect, compassion and interdependence, we connect more deeply with ourselves.

Self awareness grows like a tree grows, slowly but surely.

As we work and worship together, we become a living expression of caring community.

We strengthen the bonds that hold us, our roots and branches tangle like the plants in the berm.

As we reach out to the larger community and seek to express UU ideals of justice and equity,

We root ourselves more deeply by the shores of Lake Ontario.

As we learn to keep ourselves open to the wonders of the earth and the wide wide universe beyond us,

we know that we belong to all of it.

Our tangled little garden is small but beautiful and connected to all the rest.

Commitment to this community shapes us.

We grow in self awareness,

we strengthen the bonds among us, we root ourselves in this place, and we know in ever deepening ways that we belong to the mystery.

These are good ways to be in the world.

We are fortunate that sixty years ago there was a group of committed Unitarians who planted this congregation.

It has taken time to for us to grow and develop,

and along the way there have been some difficult setbacks.

Risks and troubles always come with building something new.

And yet, with that fire of commitment, things all worked out.

Here we are, celebrating a new ministry, enjoying the fruits of a harvest planted long ago.

Enjoying the results of a grand commitment made many years ago.

And making a commitment to one another to go forward together.

There will still be difficult times ahead, there will be choices not everyone agrees with, but – more importantly -  this is a place to deepen connections and so transform the world.

Our future has begun.


Each week I am in the building I have two rituals.

In a quiet moment I come into this Great Hall and stand in the light.

I look up and out the windows.

I look up at the stage and the artwork.

I remember all of you sitting here each Sunday,

hoping to leave nourished in spirit,

refreshed enough to face the week to come.

I remind myself that I am here to serve this community,

to work with all of you to deepen our connections.

And every day I am in my office I light a chalice.

I watch the flickering candle flame.

I remind myself that my ministry here is not about me,

as absolutely fabulous as I am.

And it isn’t about you either.

As fabulous as you are all too.

We are here as reflections of Unitarian Universalism.

We are the living expression of our religious community in this time and place.

We are part of something larger that stretches out behind us and in front of us; we are connected to other communities in this place.

We are part of a great eco-system.

Commitment to this community allows us to share a common vision,

One based in our history and our principles and our sources:

A vision of an interdependent world with health and harmony for all beings.

My work as minister is to uphold this grand vision of our faith,

to let its light shine on all that we do.

In these two rituals, standing quietly in peace in this hall, and lighting a chalice,

each week I remind myself of my commitment to Unitarian Universalism.

A vision of an interdependent world with health and harmony for all beings.

This is not going to happen any time soon.

Cultural attitudes and social systems need to be rebooted for this vision to blossom.

But the thing worth doing well  
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Echoing our responsive reading,

I believe that the UU vision has a shape that satisfies.

To achieve this future is work that is real.

It is worthy of commitment.

which is why I chose to dedicate my life to this spiritual tradition,

in a time when religion is viewed with at best amused indifference

and at worst hatred.

It is my hope that Unitarian Universalism matters to all of you as well.

That this community matters to you.

I hope that all of you know how much your involvement in this community matters.

Whether it is the gift of your presence on Sunday morning,

The gift of your talents to care for this congregational organism,

The gift of your time in facilitating our many activities.

This garden thrives because we have so many wonderful gardeners.

We bloom and grow together.

We depend on your passion and your attention.

We depend on your time and your gifts.

And we depend on your money.

This Sunday is the kick-off of our Canvass campaign.

Each November we ask members and friends to make a financial pledge to this congregation.

Unitarian Universalist congregations are self sustaining.

No central body provides support,

indeed each congregation contributes yearly to the Canadian Unitarian Council.

We support the national organization so that we may connect across the country and speak with one voice both nationally and internationally.

We support UCM so that we may connect here.

As much as we might wish otherwise, money matters.

And how we spend our money reveals what we value,

where our commitment lies.

The biographer of the Duke of Wellington once wrote

"I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money.

It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important

than the reading of his letters or speeches."

It was a far better clue.

How we live our lives, what we spend our money on,

reveals far more about what we value than anything we can say.

Currently I value smartfood popcorn.

While it would be pretty darn cool if UCM could survive without money,

flourishing on sunlight and rainwater,

organically regenerating broken elevators,

science suggests this is not going to happen anytime soon.

And that is okay.

We give money to what we cherish.

Our families and the homes that shelter us.


Book lovers buy books.  Opera fans go to operas.

Animal lovers spend unstintingly to give their animals good lives.

Maple Leaf fans buy tickets to Leaf games, because this might be the year...

We happily spend our money on the things that matter to us.

It is my deepest hope that this community of the chalice matters to you.

That you have found your joys deepened and your sorrows lightened by being here.

That your heart has been broken open by singing together.

That you have opened your spirit to the wonder of the world and been gobsmacked with delight.

That your life is better because you belong here.

If this is your garden,

your place to flourish,

know that your financial pledges help us to grow in health.

I want to close with an excerpt of Rev. Shawn Newton’s blessing from the installation.

“We give thanks for the people who have shaped and sustained

this congregation to its present health and vitality,

from the brave souls who founded and nurtured it and those who serve and nurture it still,

to all the ministers who have served it across the years with the labour of their hands, their heads, and their hearts.

We give thanks for every person who has been faithful to this community through its moments of great joy and through its times of terrible heartache.

For all who have dreamed the dream of this congregation into being,

and who keep that dream alive even still.

For all that has been, we give thanks.

And for all that yet shall be,

we say yes.”

We say yes with heads and hands and hearts.

We say yes to this beautiful garden of community.

We say yes to the blazing light of the chalice.

Thanks and Yes.

May it be so.

May it always be so.


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