by Jennifer Bennett
When you think of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, lunch is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The thousands of people from all over the world; the hundreds of workshops; the spiritual and religious presentations; and, the many, many speakers and booths full of information—these probably are. Yes, those are all important parts of the tapestry of this amazing gathering that happens once every three or so years somewhere on planet Earth. But, I’m here to tell you about the magic that is lunch at the Toronto Parliament.
The Sikh community, both local and partnering with communities from all over the world, offered langar every day of the 2018 Toronto Parliament. Langar–a free,
communal lunch–is cooked, served and cleaned up after all by the Sikh community. Thousands of people are fed, every day. Langar is offered in a space specifically created for it–you are requested to take your shoes off, cover your head, and wash your hands. There are spaces for shoes, stations where they will tie temporary head coverings for you—if you don’t already have your own—and sinks are set up for handwashing. The Sikh community members sincerely welcome you all along the way and have informational kiosks about the Sikh community and their religion’s requirement of service set up around the area.
As you stand in the initial food line, lunch is ladled in to Styrofoam trays (which are recycled). Every person who serves food or water or hands you utensils, looks you in the eye and welcomes you personally. The food is some of the best vegetarian, Indian-style food you’ve ever tasted. Chapattis, nan, rice, dahls, lentils—different combinations, every day–are ladled into your tray. You then make your way to sit on the floor—thus illustrating that everyone (regardless of caste, or any other “category”) is equal. (A small number of tables with chairs are set up for those who require them.) As you sit and eat, more volunteers are wandering up and down the aisles of floor seating, with stainless steel buckets and ladles, constantly offering you more of everything on your tray. But wait, there’s even more! After you bring your trays etc. to the recycling table, it’s time to visit the dessert and chai table on your way out.
As if all this was not the Divine in action in and of itself–all this generosity, true service and abundance–there are also the relationships that spring up with those you randomly end up sitting next to. This is where real holiness blossoms.
Throughout the week of the Parliament, I shared langar encounters with a member of the The Troth’s Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry; a woman from Aumism–Universal Religion, who was from France (and spoke just about as much English as I did French—but we managed a bit of conversation anyway); a well-known Canadian grass roots organizer (who was asked by Prime Minister Trudeau to attend the G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equity) who ended up going to a crone-ing workshop because I mentioned it to her; the husband of one of the Parliament organizers; a family (whose faces lit up once they found out I was Pagan) who asked me if I knew a particular person from S. Carolina…and I did!; a lovely young couple—one of whom was running for office in his very conservative state district (as an out gay man) because no one else from his party was running; and another young man who was living in an intentionally-multi-faith household in New York City (Christian, Jewish, Muslim). When he found out I was Pagan, he actually apologized that they had no Pagans in their community…yet!
Talk about feeding your spirit! All these are folks I just randomly sat down next to, or they next to me, to enjoy our meals, became a huge part of the Parliament experience. The Divine works in many ways and through many voices. We should all, always, have such opportunities to “do lunch” and in such a Pagan-friendly, accepting and supportive atmosphere!