Original Artwork Commissions From Áine Atara

I awoke

this morning

in the gold light

turning this way

and that

thinking for

a moment

it was one


like any other.


the veil had gone

from my

darkened heart


I thought

it must have been the quiet


that filled my room,

it must have been

the first

easy rhythm

with which I breathed

myself to sleep,

it must have been

the prayer I said

speaking to the otherness

of the night.


I thought

this is the good day

you could

meet your love,

this is the gray day

someone close

to you could die.

This is the day

you realize

how easily the thread

is broken

between this world

and the next

and I found myself

sitting up

in the quiet pathway

of light,

the tawny

close grained cedar

burning round

me like fire

and all the angels of this housely

heaven ascending

through the first

roof of light

the sun has made.

This is the bright home

in which I live,

this is where

I ask

my friends

to come,

this is where I want

to love all the things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love.

This is the temple

of my adult aloneness

and I belong

to that aloneness

as I belong to my life.

There is no house

like the house of belonging.

~“The House of Belonging” by David Whyte

At some point in my life, I stopped believing I belonged anywhere.

In my mind’s eye, I would hold up scenes of ordinary life and place myself like a paper doll among them.

I would imagine myself with the popular kids, smiling and rolling my eyes that were alight with adolescent mirth. The beautiful faces of my new besties turning to me for a quip or a query. For just a moment, I would experience the thrill of being desired. But then I would imagine the “other” kids walking past with judgement of our group in their eyes or their own longing written on their faces as they watched me from their outsider’s view. And I would feel the sadness of exclusion and it felt wrong. I wouldn’t want to belong somewhere where others felt they couldn’t belong.

What would I have to give up of myself to be that person—a person who held herself apart from others as superior?

And so I would then try to imagine myself with the creative kids who were comfortable dancing between the center and the fringes already. Maybe I’d be singing in the school musical or warbling with the hemidemisemiquavers, our high school’s acapella singing group. I could imagine myself being admired and envied for my awesome acting and singing talent and feel the thrill of performing. But I didn’t have the confidence or the quirkiness to truly live amongst the artists. And so that scene faded from possibility too.

Scenario after scenario I would try to imagine myself in this group or that to see if I could experience that feeling of belonging I was craving and then scenario after scenario, including in my own family, I felt the emptiness and lack of connection to anything I was experiencing in my imagination.

So where do I belong?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself as a whisper my whole life. And then when my mother died when I was 17, it’s a question I screamed as a harsh and guttural plea.

Please. Someone tell me. Where do I belong?

On paper, I belong to the cisgender, heteronormative, white, middle class.

According to my family tree, I belong to the Stewards and the McCaws and all the lineages therein.

According to my birth certificate, I, “Baby Female Steward,” belong to Fred and Betty Steward.

And according to the bible, I belong to my husband. And to God. In no particular order.

But none of that feels like true, deep, soul-level belonging.

I had a dream one night that my mother came to me and I asked her that question.

With anguish and fear, I pleaded to her, “Please tell me where I belong.”

She laughed at me—delighted in me—as she was wont to do.

Confused, I showed her scene after scene and placed myself in it for her and asked her “do I belong here?” And she would nod.

“And how about here?”

And she would shout “YES!”

And another scene, “Yes! Yes!”

And another, yes.

And another, yes.

And then  exasperated, she finally grabbed me and held my face and said, “My darling girl. When you belong to yourself, you belong EVERYWHERE.”

Everywhere. I belong everywhere, when I belong to myself.

Honestly, I’m not really sure I understand what it means to belong to myself. Or how it feels.

But I know deep, deep in my bones that my mother is right. As usual.

As I reflect on this statement, as I stew on it and chew on it. As I ruminate and cogitate as I am wont to do,

Here’s what I am learning…

Belonging doesn’t—and shouldn’t—require an admissions fee. It is not a commodity.

It shouldn’t prey or poison.

It shouldn’t feel unsafe or exclusive.

True belonging doesn’t steal the land from under your feet and then try and sell it back to you at a premium.

It doesn’t sneer at you over its shoulder and ask “are you sure you want to wear that?”

True belonging doesn’t demand or hurry.

It is an open hand.

It is a heart of integrity.

It is kind eyes and listening ears.

It is a warm embrace, but only if that feels safe.

True belonging nourishes.

It challenges and it accepts.

It is expansive and it protects.

It apologizes and listens.

It holds us accountable to ourselves and to each other.

So when I belong to myself, it means I start by holding these standards for myself in order to hold them for others.

It does not mean that I am solely responsible for providing them for myself my entire life. Because belonging is, in the end, not a solitary endeavour. It requires community. And courage.

There is so much loneliness in this world. There is so much loneliness inside me.

I don’t know when it began and I don’t know when it will go away, if it will go away.

But I do know that this body, this mind, this heart, this life is where I live now. I know that as poet David Whyte says that this is “where I am going to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn how to love.”

This is where I want to invite my friends and where I want us to figure out how to belong to ourselves so that we can belong to each other.

This, right here, right now, is the place that I belong and when I belong to this place and to this person—me—right here, right now then I know that I belong not just somewhere but everywhere.

Reflection Delivered on January 15, 2022 by Rev. Jessica Steward