Donald Edward Grayston

GRAYSTON, Donald Edward
Born August 31, 1939
Died October 23, 2017
Survived by children, Megan (Rick Bohonis), Rebekah (Mark Edwin) and Jonathan, sister and brother-in-law, Helen and Douglas Williams, other relatives and friends. An Anglican priest who worked in many different ministries, a teacher of Religious Studies at Simon Fraser University, an activist in the interests of justice and peace, and a longtime student of the life and work of Thomas Merton, he was past president of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada and the International Thomas Merton Society. His memorial service, reception to follow, will take place on November 15, 2017, with a viewing at 2 p.m. and service at 2:30 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral, 690 Burrard Street (at Georgia) in Vancouver. In lieu of flowers, he would welcome donations to the Quest Outreach Society, P. O. Box 2156, St. Main Terminal, Vancouver, BC V6B 3V3. KORU Cremation and Burial in charge of arrangements for a Green Burial in the family plot at Mountain View Cemetery. Messages of condolence to www.korucremation.com/ obituaries.


These are some insights that I gathered together in September 2013, at the time of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of my ordination. My life and my ministry would have been enormously enhanced if I had known and applied them over those fi f¬ty years. 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

1 Work with the people who want to work with you. I think I was past fi fty when the truth of this burst upon me. I spent years trying to persuade people (I’m thinking here of parish life) who would rather have eaten ground glass than work with me to work with me. Meanwhile, the good folk who were ready and willing to work with me were being neglected in favour of the others. What a waste!

2 The only moment available to us is the present moment, commonly called “now.” I used to tell my students that the secret of life (they had to come to every class, because I never knew when I would proclaim this, and would they want to miss out on the secret of life??) was this: to be lovingly present to the present moment. I say “lovingly” be¬cause there are other ways to be present to the present moment: guiltily, angrily, fearfully, and so on. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow never comes, today is the only day we have. Th is of course is an insight which becomes more real as one advances in age. It is also necessary to understand that the only entrance into eternity is from the present, not the past or the future.

3 Include and transcend. This is a mantra from American philosopher Ken Wilber which I find profoundly illuminating. Many of the attitudes and practices and involve¬ments of our lives lose their validity or their pertinence as time goes on. Rather than reject them, or tear them out by the roots, follow Rumi’s advice, give them a hug and move on, transcend them without rejecting or excluding them. This has a particular applicability to my Christian identity. I acknowledge that there is truth and beauty in all religious tradi¬tions, and that the Christian tradition ought not to be absolutized as the only repository of truth. So 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.

4 Pain is the door to awakening. As Richard Rohr says, “we must go down before we even know what up is.” I think back to the time (I was 49) when my marriage ended. I had a very painful experience of failure and exile. But somehow out of that came such a spiritual awakening or expansion that I now think of the time before that as a time of profound sleep, and the time after as the beginning of my real awakening. I developed a periodization of my life at the time – being sleep, waking up, going crazy with the pain, becoming sane. I later realized I had to add a fifth stage: staying sane.

5 Whatever of our pain or woundedness we don’t transform, we transmit. Th is is Richard Rohr again. It’s also what the Bible is talking about when it refers to how both negative and positive impulses are transmitted to “the third and fourth generations.” If we don’t deal with the wound, turn it into a sacred wound as Rohr would say, it will continue to infect our relations with others. Pain and suffering of some sort, he says, “seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance,” to shake us up, in other words. (And thanks to Dawn Kilarski, who was the first person I learned this from.)

6 God suffers when we suffer. If I didn’t believe this, I couldn’t be a Christian. It is the way forward through the apparent conundrum about why bad things happen to good people. The process theologians see this as part of the evolutionary process whereby God reconciles the world to himself. Muslims have a wonderful image of this in the image of the carpet of history. The open end of the carpet includes all the threads of our experience, including our suffering. God the weaver weaves them all into the forward movement of humanity. For Christians, of course, it is the crucifixion of Jesus which is the supreme emblem of this.

7 For every stupid statement I made and that I regret, there were ten or a dozen statements I regret not making. This brings together two virtues, discernment and courage — or let’s just say guts. We need to know what to say and have the guts to say it when the moment is upon us. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible says: “there is a time to speak and a time to keep silence.” I see a parallel here with Jesus’ comment that we should render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Fine, in both cases: but which is which? We still have to tackle the discernment question; and having come to a conclusion, fi nd the courage to say what we need to say when we come to the time to speak.

8 The art of living is the art of knowing what is in front of your face at any one time, any particular “now.” This comes from the non-biblical gospel of Th omas, in which Logion (saying) 5 says this: “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed; for there is nothing hidden that will not revealed.” I read this as if for the first time about three years ago and found it astonishing. I was able to apply it immediately to certain parts of my past, about which I asked myself why I couldn’t see what was in front of my face. That then took me to the present, and the need and opportu¬nity to ask myself what is in front of my face right now. You can test this for yourself right now, by asking yourself what is in front of your face at this very moment.

Donald Grayston collage












In thanksgiving for the life of

The Reverend Dr. Donald Edward Grayston

August 31, 1939 – October 23, 2017

Donald Edward Grayston was born in Vancou­ver, BC, in the Vancouver General Hospital. His mother was Marion Houston Macdonald Grayston (1912-2004); his father was Edward Walter Grayston (1913-1992). His first name came from his mother’s family name; his middle name honored his father. His parents met on March 9, 1932, at a meeting of the Anglican Young People’s Association (AYPA) at St Mary’s Church in Kerrisdale, where on December 3, 1939, the First Sunday of Advent and his paternal grandfather’s 75th birthday, he was baptized.

Both his parents, for financial reasons, were forced to leave school as teenagers. His father worked from that time until his retirement as a ship chandler; he was “Ted” to his family, “Eddie” to his workmates. His mother worked as a stenographer in the offices of chartered accountants, where her nickname was “Tillie,” after a cartoon character of the time, Tillie the Toiler.

Early in WWII, his father joined the Royal Cana­dian Air Force (RCAF), with which he served in Manitoba, England, the Netherlands and Germany. Soon afterward, his mother, with her two children, Donald and Helen (b. 1943), moved in with her parents, who lived in a large apartment in Holly Lodge, in Vancouver’s West End.

After the death of his grandfather, he became the only male in the apartment, where he lived until January 1946 with his mother and sister, his aunt Cordelia, his grandmother, Helen Macdonald, and his great aunt, Maud Armstrong — five females and one little male. He attributes his ease of com­munication with (most!) women to this strongly feminine time of formation. Aged 4, he taught himself to read by reading the Bible, in particular the accounts of the wars of the kings in the Hebrew scriptures.

He started elementary school in 1945 at Lord Rob­erts, transferring to Lord Tennyson in the spring of 1946, after a family move to 2194 West 14th, in Kitsilano, where the family remained until 1949. It was during those years that he and Helen were tak­en to Sunday School at Canadian Memorial United Church by a United Church neighbour.

In 1949, the family moved to 3776 West 39th Av­enue. It was this house which figured prominently for the rest of his life in his dreams as his archetypal home. He went to Kerrisdale School for Grade Six, where his great moment was besting the teacher in a spelling bee with the word antidisestablishmentari­anism.

Between 1950 and 1956 he attended Lord Byng Secondary School, where he particularly enjoyed English, French, Latin, Drama and Typing—the latter being the most useful course of his entire high school career. His great moment in high school: playing the part of “Scrooge” in Dickens’s A Christ­mas Carol.

When he was 13, his mother became concerned that he had few friends, and sent him for a two-week session at Artaban, the Anglican camp on Gambier Island. It was here that his faith came alive; within two months of his time there he had decided to be ordained.

As did most of his fellow graduates from Byng (188 out of 216), he registered at UBC in September 1956. He began in Classics, but found that the de­partment head assumed a dominating role in his life, and switched to English, receiving his BA with First Class Honours in 1960. He later regretted that he had not switched to Modern Languages instead.

For his 17th birthday, his sister gave him Archbishop Trevor Huddleston’s book about apartheid in South Africa, Naught for Your Comfort. He wrote to the author, a correspondence which led to his going for the first two years of theological study to the school maintained by Huddleston’s community, the College of the Resurrection, at Mirfield, West York-shire, in England. He did his third year at the Gen­eral Theological Seminary in New York City, where he received his MDiv cum laude in May 1963. He was ordained deacon on September 8, 1963, and appointed as assistant to Bernard Barrett, rector of St Andrew’s Church, Trail, where he was ordained priest on April 7, 1964.

He left Trail in 1967, and enrolled in the affiliat-ed-BA program at Cambridge University, which proved unsuitable for two reasons. The program did not give him access to work with senior faculty, and he found the class atmosphere of the university uncongenial. He left after two terms, and spent the third term very happily at Woodbrooke, the Quak­er college in Birmingham.

After a summer travelling in Europe, he registered for the Graduate Winter Program at the Ecumeni­cal Institute, Bossey, in the canton of Vaud, a joint project of the World Council of Churches and the University of Geneva. While studying there, he met his wife, Mary-Virginia (Ginger) Shaw, a lay minister at the American Episcopal church in Ge­neva. They were married civilly in Geneva in May 1969; the church wedding took place in the chapel of Ginger’s seminary,  the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were divorced in 1992.

After an interim year at Sorrento Centre, and two years in Rossland, where he was also Anglican-Unit­ed chaplain at Selkirk College, Castlegar, he went to Toronto, where he received a ThM from Trinity College, and a PhD from St Michael’s College, both in the Toronto School of Theology in the Univer­sity of Toronto. It was at St Michael’s that he began his study of Thomas Merton, an interest which he maintained to the end of his life.

From 1977 to 1985 he was rector of All Saints’ Church in Burnaby. During this time he became aware of the terrible peril from nuclear weapons in which the planet stood and still stands. In 1985 he founded the Shalom Institute, the work of which was focused on the place of justice and peace is­sues in theological education in Canada. Out of this grew the Pacific Jubilee Program in Spiritual For­mation and Spiritual Direction, launched in 1988 and still active.

In 1989 he began teaching Religious Studies as a sessional instructor at Simon Fraser University. This became a full-time position in 1993. He taught Introduction to World Religions, the Holocaust, Gandhi and Thomas Merton. For the last three years at SFU, he was director of the Institute for the Humanities, retiring as then required by law in 2004.

He did some post-retirement teaching at SFU, and in 2006 undertook a 600K walk in Britain, from Land’s End to Newcastle. In the cathedral in New-castle he experienced three epiphanies, which con­vinced him that his walk had become a pilgrimage. The third of these was a memory of a sermon he had heard at a youth conference 47 years earlier, a riff on the letters of the organization, AYPA. The preacher, Bishop Ralph Dean, took those letters to represent All Your Past Absolved, All Your Present Accepted, All Your Potential Assured. At that mo­ment, a memory became a felt experience.

Having learned something of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a student in the last course he taught on the Holocaust, he committed the remainder of his active retirement (2007-14) to raising the consciousness of Canadians to the realities of that conflict through programs of public education. He regarded this issue as having the same level of moral claim on contemporary Christians as had the civil rights issue in its time. Finding stronger support for this viewpoint in the United Church than in the Anglican Church, he divided his church time of the last few years between the two churches.

He had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2000, and began to use oxygen with exertion in 2013, and to use it full-time in 2015. He died in hospice on October 23, 2017 and is survived by his daughter Megan and her husband Rick, his daughter Rebekah and her partner Mark, and his son Jonathan, who lived with him and cared mag­nificently for his needs from January 2017 until the end; his sister, Helen, brother-in-law Douglas, and their family.

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

(1 Timothy 6:7)

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8)




… some already known, some yet to be known. 

Welcome to my website, and to this simple way of being in touch with each other. I set it up after my retirement from teaching at Simon Fraser University, as a way to be easily contacted. I also wanted to pull together all my interests in one place so that I myself could see the whole picture, and keep things in balance to the best of my ability.

Looking back on my own life, I see some clearly discernible stages: child, student, ordination: first adulthood. Then came second adulthood: the householder years, teaching at SFU, working in the Jubilee Program. These were years of joy and sorrow, of seeking and finding, of the discovery and rediscovery of many new connections among faith, eros and mortality.

 Now I find myself in third adulthood, called by some retirement–a word much in need of redefinition! Certainly, at least for those in decent health, its touchstone is freedom. One paradigm of retirement speaks of active retirement, reflective retirement, and “being in care.” As of January 2017, I have moved into the final stage. I move around my apartment at the end of a 32-foot length of oxygen tubing. I have 24/7 companionship–and here I express my gratitude to those friends and family members who make this possible. I am still active in many ways, although restricted in some ways because of my need for oxygen support, and increasingly devoting myself to reflection and writing. My computer is my portal to the big world outside.

Every transition between these stages was marked by an awakening of some kind; and in this present transition I am trying to pay attention to what new and continuing awakening the universe is asking of me. In a very real sense I think of myself as a pilgrim, ready to continue my journey, and to learn as I go. 

A couple of years ago I wrote a little song which expresses my feeling about this.

I am here

In the heart of God.

I walk the path

The saints have trod.

As I step forth,

Mercy takes my hand,

And leads me to

The Promised Land.

In the other pages of this website you can read about some of my interests and activities. Something that links them all is my conviction that we need to seek a better balance between individuality and community, and that the activities to which we give our time and energy must contribute to that.

This is especially important in this time of The Great Turning, a phrase which comes from eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, and refers to the massive changes, still unrecognized by most, which are now taking place in our societies and on our planet. Following this paragraph, you will find an article by Richard Rohr exploring the meaning of Macy’s phrase.

RR on the Great Turning

And here’s another take on what I think we need to be doing, from  Victoria writer Donaleen Saul.

[What we need to do is] the hard inner work of thinking and feeling for ourselves, releasing what no longer serves us, discovering what can never be destroyed, and allowing the Eternal—I would also call it Love—to shape our lives.

This is a deep and beautiful statement, and I take it as a watchword for myself in this challenging time of “turning away from” and “turning towards”—the Great Turning, in other words.

And here’s another watchword, this one from the non-biblical Gospel of Thomas, Saying 5:

“Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed; for there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”

The challenge there is to know—not just observe, think about or glance at, but know—what is in front of our faces, and then to act from what we know, trusting the promise in the saying that what was at one time hidden from us will by our knowing and acting be revealed to us and to others.

Whether or not we are ever in contact, I wish you well. My hope for any reader of this website, above all, is that you are in possession of your own soul and that you are moving forward on your own pilgrimage, your own journey of heart and spirit.

Questions and comments: donald_grayston@sfu.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Echols

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