Holy Birthday to You (and me).

It was a fine day yesterday, hanging out with the Bahá’ís as the community and its friends celebrated one of the Faith’s holy days, the birth of its Founder, Bahá’u’lláh.* He was born in Tehran in 1817, and it occurs to me to imagine that the twelfth of November eleven years from now will be a big day in the Bahá’í universe. (And baby, better stand back when those crazy Bahá’ís start celebrating…!)

Okay, so there probably won’t be a need for riot police and pepper spray, but I like partying with the nine-pointed stars and their friends anyway. The courtesy never fails to refresh, the greetings are warm and the laughter comes easily. (In fact, I found the conversations so good that I forgot to elbow my way to the dessert table. Shocking omission, yes, but I’d warmed up with a neighbourly lunch before the afternoon bonanza.)

And it’s important fun, if that’s allowed. (Too often, there’s a nearly iron-bound divider between amusement — must be extreme, loud, trivial — and social betterment — must be stern, humourless and apocalyptic.Yesterday, it was. Solemn prayer beside the balloons. Learning along with every second conversational giggle. One aspect of community education is key: we’re understanding, steady by quick, how to not just tolerate but to venerate, to celebrate diversity while we stand together on the essentials. So a 15-year-old classical violinist shared the stage with a young white gospel singer, and exuberant African drumming and singing followed the plaintive strains of traditional Persian drumming, singing and the plucking of the tar. French, English, Arabic and Farsi were spoken. It was a smorgasbord. (Thank-you, Sweden, for that tasty word.)

(* Yes, faithful readers, give yourself a bonus point in the standings if you correctly identified Bahá’u’lláh as the “Persian exile” in the November 11 post. Give yourself two points if you hit the link either time.)

Paradise by the Carney Lights

Well, maybe not paradise, exactly, but I found a small flood of spirit in the midst of Mammon last night. The Ottawa SuperEx was opening in all its sticky-fingered, gut-heaving glory. The girls had layered on the mascara extra-thick, the boys were gelled and bare of arm, and the same classic rock was blaring from (mostly) the same rides. And I swear that the exact same guys were trying to extract money from my pocket as when I was a flat-bellied kid trying hard to impersonate a Man at the county fair. Can’t win if you don’t spin.

But weirdly enough, just next to the BMX Oooh-Factor Bike Ramp – not its real name – was a stage preparing for a “Joy of Faith” concert. Prayer and proclamation facing down snowcones and kewpie dolls. Hymns and dancing and spoken Word versus the Ferris wheel. It was an odd conjunction but a rather sweet one. The Hindu and Jewish community choirs were in full voice, as were a Mormon crooner and a Muslim rapper who mixed gangsta sounds with between-takes appeals for peace and understanding. The Jain and Sikh communities delighted with colour and dance, and a thundering band of evangelical Christians blended power chords with the Book of Revelations. Bahá’í youth sang and spoke and played in French, English and Gypsy Swing. (Django Reinhardt at the corner of Faith and the Fair! That was better than fun.)

Beside the contrast between the midway and the spirit way, there was an ethic of appreciation for the different ways in which communities express devotion. Some groups were clearly more comfortable than others with this concept of a shared spiritual heritage, seeing unity within religious diversity. But they all came to the table, and they carried something more than caramel corn. I liked it.