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between our steps 07 31 19 doubleMonday morning my husband declared a need to drop by the Hindu temple on Bayview Ave in Richmond Hill. It had been too long since he had a chance to visit.

Known as the Ganesh temple, there are a number of shrines for both followers of Shiva and Vishnu. Arranged in a traditional manner so that a person can choose to focus on Shiva Nataraja (Dancing Shiva), one of the goddesses such as Durga, or on one of Vaishnavite deities such as Venkateswara or Lakshmi. It is a busy place with priests making offerings for people or performing traditional prescribed rites. Lay people are also busy, circling the nine planets, singing traditional hymns. It is an ecumenical temple, making space for people with very different religious practices.

I have always been intrigued at the role of lay people in Hindu practice. Yes, there are certain roles that only priests carry on, but when we visited temples in Guyana, the role of women was central. While men led the singing, an older woman would gather several younger women and girls around a small fire quietly offering prayers and burning incense and spices in sequence. After a sermon, women would lead the aarthi, an offering of light. In one visit, it was a young woman who gave the sermon.

Visiting a Kali temple in Tamil Nadu, I was moved by the energy of two women kneeling on the floor, lighting pieces of camphor placed on limes. In that dim space, the flickering light was beautiful, and the power of the women's prayers filled the space.

Catholic churches offer the opportunity for people to offer their own prayers by lighting a candle. In recent years, for the service between Christmas and New Years, I have included candle lighting at the time of prayers for others, ourselves, and the world.

Another practice that has spoken to me strongly is the Moslem call to prayer. I remember staying in Lenasia, a South Asian township near Johannesburg, South Africa. In that dry air, in the stillness before dawn, the voice from the mosque rang clear. It reminded me to begin the day centred on God.

In Istanbul, the call to prayer would begin in the distant east as the sun set in that place, then move closer and closer, sound right beside you, then move on to the west. It was like a wave washing over the city, its people, embracing all.

We were in Burkina Faso during Ramadan and at sunset, as the streets began to get dark and car lights came on, groups of people would stop, face north-east, and stand still to offer their prayers. While the rest of us hurried on our way, their pause was a powerful reminder hurrying to our destination is not the most important goal.

When there is a formal gathering of Anishinaabe people, there will be a sacred fire. Outside a traditional funeral, beside the dance circle at a pow wow, a firekeeper will keep the flames going. Anyone can approach from the east and place one of the medicines carefully laid out in the flames. I find these circles to be places of focus and peace.

I also appreciate the gift of the smudge. Whether it is a braid of sweetgrass or a set of medicines laid on a large shell, the person leading the smudge offers each person who approaches a moment of cleansing for ears and mouth, head and feet, heart and spirit. Breathing the aroma, I am reminded to value what I hear, to take care of what I speak.

Recently, the mosque in our community was targeted by a vandal. A new restaurant owned by a South Asian was also targeted. Stickers that promote white, european culture appeared in many places. The idea that our community should go back to being all white surfaced. Mostly, this racist attitude is whispered, but last week we could all see it.

Our community has always been diverse with Metis and First Nations people here before and during settlement, with black farmers, with immigrant professionals and retailers. We've benefited from the gifts diversity contributes. In this piece I have tried to share some of what I have learned from other religious traditions. Mine is one among many, with strengths and weaknesses. I need the gifts that others offer.

Cathy Hird is a United Church minister who lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.

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