On Monday I gave you an overview of the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. I told you 10,000 participants and a vast array of topics and presentations to choose from. But that isn’t all there was to the Parliament.
There were several on-going or open activities as well. At the entrance, just in front of the registration tables, the Tibetan Monks set up a space to create a mandala for the event. In this tradition sand paintings are done to honor important events, and then in acknowledgment of the impermanence of all things, are blown away.
Even before the entrance, outside of the building, the Native peoples of the Americas established a ritual fire. They tended it throughout. People were always present to answer questions, help with offerings, and do sacred smudge. Each morning there was a prayer to the spirits of each of the directions to bless the work being done at the Parliament.
There was a table of salt, brought in from the Great Salt Lake. As participants passed by they could dip their hands in the salt. Many made patterns and pictures. It was an ongoing, ever-changing record of how people were feeling about the event. At the end the salt went back to the lake.
Of course there was the big room of vendors. Many of those booths were purely there to provide information about the religions they represented. There was a lot of free literature, books, pins, and occasionally candy given away. There were also places throughout the conference so that each religious system could host hospitality conversations.
There was a labyrinth laid out in tape on the floor, a copy of the one at Chartres. The ballroom hall was lined with beautiful tapestries of Goddesses from around the world. There were prayer flags lining the balconies and escalators.
There were art installations with religious themes. Everything was represented from traditional depictions of the crucifixion to an interactive exhibition where participants were encouraged to place keys on an arbor to support giving women access to theological and ministerial ranks in traditions where those roles are strictly limited to men.
The most profound contribution to the atmosphere at the Parliament (to my mind, and echoed by many others) was from the Sikh community. They had a presence in the vendor hall, offering the opportunity to have a turban wrapped on your head in the Sikh fashion and gifted to you to wear it throughout the Parliament. That was fascinating. Even more profound was their offering of Langar.
The Sikh’s made a vegetarian lunch every day and offered it free to any participant in the Parliament. We were welcomed to the space and asked to take off our shoes. The line took us past a series of boards talking about the Sikh religion, their principals, and their service. We were offered head coverings and hand washing. Then we were sat in rows on the floor as volunteers went up and down filling trays with each of the courses.
It was an incredible production and an invaluable gift to the Parliament. It set a place of community building. Many of my best conversations with strangers happened while I attended Langar. The food was simple, Indian, and wonderful. The warmth, friendliness, and generosity of spirit shown in this rite will stay with me for a long time.