Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner November 28, 2018
Langar Lunch courtesy of the Sikh Community with L-R Sharon Mijares PhD, Susana Bustos PhD, Elder Alice Olsen Williams/Minaachimo-Kwe and Author Pegi Eyers at the 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions. Their presentation was entitled "Wisdom and Healing: Worldviews with Ancient Roots & Modern Understanding." ROBERT HOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
What makes a compassionate city? Could we declare Peterborough to be one?
In 2009, Karen Armstrong, the famous British historian of religion, and a former nun, led the launch of the Charter of Compassion, a four-paragraph document calling on humans to "work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and treat everybody with absolute justice, equality and respect."
It continued : "To speak or act violently out of spite, chauvinism or self- interest or to incite hatred by denigrating others is a denial of our common humanity." The Charter didn't spare the religions. "Any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate."
Thousands of individuals, groups and organizations signed on. Now there is an NGO based in Washington State which has 11 employees, working to expand the reach of the Charter and increase the number of signatories.
Four hundred and eleven cities from all over the world have declared themselves to be compassionate communities, committed to social change and development. To move towards this, a steering committee identifies "discomforts" in the community, discovers already-existing programs and builds on them. It chooses a focus, creates a plan, shares it with local government and works for a public affirmation of the Charter of Compassion. Then there is a kickoff event. Progress can also be measured against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (there are 17), for 2030.
I realize this work is all aspirational, but inspiring words, as history shows, have immense power for good. Learning about the existence of the Charter of Compassion, reading it, possibly critiquing it, and signing on to it can all be positive, educational and action-oriented.
Karen Armstrong spoke several times at the Parliament of the World's Religions. I was recently in a school where the student leaders took it on. I have a Charter lapel pin for our new mayor, and will present it to her at the first opportunity!
There are restaurants of all kinds along Simcoe Street, but I was drawn daily to the "langar" (Punjabi word for "the Guru's Kitchen"), within the Metro Convention Centre. It occupied the space of two gymnasiums, and there the Sikhs of Toronto undertook to cook lentils, rice, chappatis and beans to serve 4,000 people each day.
We entered, took off our shoes, washed our hands and sat down, as Sikh women tied orange bandanas on our heads. Then we took our places side by side along a wide ribbon of cloth, and assumed, as best we could, the cross -legged position on the floor, to be served what was a delicious lunch by the men. I learned later they had arranged with the Convention Centre to have any leftover food taken nightly to Toronto's homeless shelters.
"It is sharing, not charity," said one smiling man to me. "That is a Sikh value."
Now you will certainly want to know about the ritual crafted by the "Circle Sanctuary" pagan presenters in which I participated. It is "croning," at which older women (54 is the minimum age to become a crone, or for men, a sage) develop a short ceremony, individual or in a group, to accept and welcome their aging. A kind of rite of passage, with enthusiastic chants and a leader, in our case Selena Fox of Wisconsin, who asked us cheerily, "What is better than aged wine? Aged cheese?"
Altogether it was a counter-cultural experience. No bad jokes about getting old, either self-inflicted jokes or those uttered by others. Links were made with St. Brigid of Kildare in the sixth century, who was a powerful abbess of a religious community, practiced folklore coming from an earlier time, and had a magic cloak she hung on a sunbeam.
With the cloak, I conclude these tales of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Toronto, 2018. Don't miss the next one.