the Word on the street …I live on the West Coast of Turtle Island, on unceded Native land belonging to the Coast Salish people. It is also called Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver in the province of British Columbia, in the country called Canada. In this small suburb of this medium sized Canadian city, there is this one particularly beautiful street. It’s called Number 5 Road. Within the distance of a few kilometres, all along one stretch of road, there are a string of places of worship. There are 2 Masjids, one Sunni and one Shia, there are Hindu Temples, a Synagogue, Sikh Gurdwaras, several Churches of different denominations and a massive Buddhist Temple.
There are, of course, a few logistical reasons that all of these faith communities have gathered on the same street. In the 70s and 80s, before this suburb was heavily populated, land was cheap in this area and available in large tracts. So various communities bought large plots, believing rightly that their communities would grow into those spaces.
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, as I was staring at my blank computer screen trying to write an essay, my writer’s block hell was interrupted by a call from friends whose aged car had left them stranded at the end of No. 5. As I drove down to rescue them, I was struck again by what an absolute blessing it is to live near such a street. Every one of those buildings was alive with light and sound and the beauty of crowds gathered in worship and in the celebration of community.
Tonight, I sat in the Shia Masjid, in a gathering to pray for those that were killed in the Al-Kazimiyya tragedy outside of Baghdad this week. The Shia community had invited all the other communities to come in and share in their grief. There was beautiful Quran recitation in Arabic and dua in English. There were also prayers in Chinese, and in Sanskrit, and passages from the Bible read by a Priest. They prayed for those that died in Al-Kazimiyya and for those in New Orleans and for all those who are suffering everywhere.
The space felt blessed.
We live in a time where many have some kind of fetishized obsession with the term, "secularism". This is a term, perhaps like many other terms, that seems to shift in meaning rapidly. For some it means simply that the State should never impose any religion on anyone. Others further define it to mean that the State should not interfere in the religion of faith communities and individuals. But for some the term, "secularism" is really about anti-religionism - a vehement removal of all things religious from the public discourse.
For myself, I prefer the term, "pluralism" - a celebration of the multiplicity of ways that we seek intimacy with the Divine. And with that a clear understanding that all of us are equal regardless of what we call our path, including those who chose to not identify their path with any religion.
My prayer is for more of this. Anyday. On any street.