Mosaic Interfaith held its Annual Peace Meal this past Sunday at St. Luke’s Parish in Thornhill, Ontario. The event brought together leaders of different faiths to discuss pressing issues relevant to their congregations. This year’s theme was entitled “Our Common Voice: Protecting the Life Sustaining Gift of Water” and included a diverse range of speakers from the academic, religious and government backgrounds. The topic of water as a religious metaphor is present in all faiths. However, its future management depends on the recognition of its importance and the development of proactive and innovative conservation techniques.
Stephen Scharper, Associate Professor with the Centre for Environment at the University of Toronto was the keynote speaker and presented some of the spiritual, ethical and social justice issues pertaining to water management in Canada. He touched upon the Aboriginal relationship with water and how it is traditionally viewed within the family unit. He also shared his own poetic insights into the representation of water in faith and the importance of blending eastern philosophy with western science.
Cheri Buxton, an Environmental Technologist with York Region, also spoke of some of the water efficiency initiatives the region is involved with and introduced some elements of their recently released water conservation plan. Throughout her presentation she tied together the message of conservation from the individual to the community level and related its significance to future generations which resonated with the audience.
The second portion of the event involved a panel discussion and brought together representatives from seven faiths to share their perspectives on water. The panelists included Michael Kerr (Buddhism), Antoinette Agostinell (Christianity), Cliff Rajkumar (Hinduism), Prof. Hussein Khimjee (Islam), Rabbi Cory Weiss (Judaism), Raghbir Singh Samagh (Sikhism) and Dr. Jehan Bagli (Zoroastrianism).
All faiths expressed the importance of water as a sacred blessing to be protected and conserved. There were several themes that overlapped between the panelists which highlighted the similarities between the religions when it comes to water management.
1) Water as a symbol of growth and rebirth: Within the Buddhist tradition, water was described as representing the nurturing and cultivating aspects of humanity. It brings forward life where it is barren and hydrates the mind, body and soul. In Christianity water is blessed and used in baptismal rituals as a rite of passage and in Judaism prayers are recited for rain during the growing season. 2) Water as a path to purification and cleansing: In the Islamic tradition, water is central to spiritual purification before prayers, pilgrimage and at death. In Zoroastrianism, water and cleanliness are linked where cleansing of the body is seen as an avenue to cleansing the mind. Within Sikhism water is seen as a path to humility, as it always flows downwards and it plays an important role in daily ablutions. 3) Water as a divine miracle: In the history of the Christian and Jewish faith, water was described in several miracles from Moses parting the Red Sea to Jesus changing water to wine. These miracles are celebrated today, often encompassing rituals involving water.
The lecture portion concluded with a ceremonial breaking of the bread with each representative reciting a prayer to bless the meal. The general response to the seminar was overwhelmingly positive with many participants eager to learn more about what they can do as individuals to ensure water remains a central tenant of their faith.
Mosaic Interfaith currently organizes the Out of the Cold program which provides overnight shelters during the coldest parts of the year and is operated by six interfaith communities in Southern York Region. For more information, please visit their website at: http://www.miotc.ca/