canopy: mj cyr in ottawa

marie-jo cyrSo, just a little note about an upcoming event in Ottawa. Ridiculously talented singer-songwriter MJ Cyr is coming to the Ottawa Bahá’í Centre (211 McArthur Ave, near the Vanier Parkway) to perform her latest devotional album, Canopy, a collection of spiritual writings presented in a variety of musical genres that everyone can enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to invite friends, as attendance is free. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear one of Toronto’s hottest new artists performing in Ottawa!

MJ’s thoughts on Canopy: “All the lyrics have been extracted directly from Writings of the Baha’i Faith. My intention with this record is to find concepts, and ideas, that are universally inspirational to everyone no matter the belief or school of thought. Too often, concepts connected to spirituality or Faith seem so out-of-reach, or taboo. I hope to create something that can show a softer, more tangible side.”

To put a bit of a personal spin on this invitation, I remember hearing MJ something like 15 years ago at a series of provincial youth conferences in Kingston. I would always hang out at the coffeehouse events in the evenings just to hear her sing, nay, belt out her original songs with her piercing, passionate voice, which I always found to be well suited to devotional projects such as we now see in Canopy. While her voice may be somewhat tempered compared to her early days, it still clearly conveys her passion, especially in the album’s heartbeat-backed title track. The strength and clarity of her voice and her deft use of vocal harmony, two of her characteristic musical traits, are present even in the album’s more down-tempo tracks. Most of Canopy is light-hearted and upbeat, which may come as a surprise to those whose concept of devotional music revolves around gregorian chants or ragas. Oh My‘s sing-along vibe and Intone‘s boppy rhythm and instrumental variety would fit nicely on a roadtrip mixtape, while I could listen to Innocent in Heart‘s ambient electronic tones and Destine for them Every Good‘s driving synth-centred pop-rock rhythm all day at work. The Watchman, meanwhile, puts the traditional story of a “heart-surrendered lover” driven by seemingly hostile watchmen towards his heart’s desire to a melodious country beat. Overall, Canopy is an enjoyable, accessible album that should please not only those seeking musical enlightenment, but also those looking for a solid collection of songs that offer a little more than just a catchy tune.

baha’i centre in vanier newspaper

Via @DASLucas on twitter, here’s the text of a nice little article about the Ottawa Baha’i Centre written by Ruby Pratka in a local newspaper, Perspectives Vanier (see the original front-page article in the PDF version of the paper). It begins by mentioning the Centre, which is located at the edge of Ottawa’s east-central Vanier borough, and quickly goes on to give an overview of the Baha’i Faith through the voices of two representatives of the Ottawa community. It even ends off with a mention about junior youth groups and other core activities organized by the Ottawa Baha’i community. Not an in-depth article, but a great front-page teaser that will undoubtedly help to answer a few questions—and raise even more—for curious locals who may have wondered about that building on MacArthur Avenue.

Baha’i Centre of Ottawa in Vanier since 2007
by Ruby Pratka

Heather Harvey and Ayafor Ayafor want to build a better world. And they believe that a better world starts in the front room of a former Mexican restaurant on McArthur Avenue.

Ayafor and Harvey are members of the Baha’i faith, a religious community that they say has about 1000 adherents in Ottawa and about 5 million scattered across the world. The Baha’i presence in Ottawa dates from 1948, says Harvey.

“We’ve gone from nine in 1948 to over 1000 now,” she says. The Baha’i Centre of Ottawa has been in Vanier since 2007.

The Baha’i faith was founded about 150 years ago in Iran, by a spiritual leader who believed he was the next in a series of prophets serving the same God. Baha’is consider Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad to be prophets as well. There is no clergy, only a democratically elected ‘spiritual assembly’ in each area with a Baha’i presence. The faith has since spread worldwide; according to the Centre for Faith in the Media it is the second most geographically widespread faith after Christianity. Baha’is, Harvey explains, respect the texts of all major religions and believe in the “unity of God” across world religions.

“At its basis there is a commonality to what our relationship is with God…and to life after death,” says Harvey.

“One of our fundamental principles is the idea of the oneness of mankind,” says Ayafor, who was born in Cameroon and raised a Christian. “Fundamentally we are like cells of a body; we’re evolving. The writings are there to bring unity in the world, but Baha’is don’t know how that is going to happen.”

Harvey and Ayafor say they believe that it is impossible to separate science and religion, and that world peace is inevitable. They also believe in the importance of community service.

“To work in the service of humanity is highly looked upon,” says Harvey.

To that end, she says, the centre holds youth study groups for teenagers to figure out how to best serve their community. “It’s all about ‘what can I do tomorrow?’,” Harvey says. “The reality of what you can do varies from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. In those study circles things emerge, like a literacy campaign or a health campaign. . Our junior youth groups clean the parks; simple things can be done and something leads into something else. It’s very important for youth–and everyone–to believe they have a purpose.”

In addition to the youth groups, the centre holds devotional meetings where attendees study the texts of all major religions, children’s classes, and summer day camps. And anyone is welcome to come to the centre and have a look around. These programs are open “to all people, whether Baha’is or not,” says Harvey. “We are not an inward-looking community.”

recent teaching team writeup

The following post is based on an email I sent around to the teaching team I’m working with here in a neighbourhood of Ottawa; my main path of service so far has been teaching a children’s class open to the whole neighbourhood.

I arrived at the Vietnamese Centre around 10:30am, and they were still waiting for chairs to fill up (apparently the customs of punctuality I observed while in Vietnam carry over to the overseas Vietnamese as well). The morning crowd was full of older Vietnamese gentlemen and ladies, and perhaps through a bit of shyness—and a desire not to greet elders incorrectly, with my broken Vietnamese—I didn’t break out into greetings and conversation with them all. Instead I listened with bemusement, being able to pick out about 15% of what people were saying. The morning presentation was given in English by a Registered Nurse on Pandemic H1N1, and included lots of great flu-prevention tips. The Centre’s director translated everything into Vietnamese. At the end, the speaker was given a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the Centre and its community—such a nice gesture—and a photo was taken with all present.

By the end of the H1N1 talk, it was clear that the crowd had swelled to about twice its original size, including a few younger folks, and still almost 100% Vietnamese. The next speaker followed after a short break: ethnically Vietnamese, but raised in France and married to an Israeli gentlemen, she came to talk about the Vietnamese community in Israel (of all places). In fact, it gave me an interesting insight into Ottawa’s own Vietnamese community, and the difference between “mainland” and “overseas” Vietnamese—a mainly political difference, brought on by the after-effects of the Vietnam War. This presentation continued until about 1:00pm, at which point we stopped for lunch. This is when it got really interesting—with four of us present from our Chinatown teaching team, we had a lot of conversations with many different people and covered a lot of ground.

I spoke to a really nice Vietnamese lady who asked about my recent trip to Vietnam and the sort of activities I took part in while I was over there. I explained to her about the core activities, and linked my time spent serving in Vietnam to our efforts here at the Centre. She asked me directly whether I was interested in offering English classes to members of the community, specifically newly arrived Vietnamese immigrants who had been living in the Philippines. I told her about the English Corner initiative put on by members of the Baha’i community and she seemed very interested; I told her I would follow up with my contacts to see if we could offer something similar for this community. Maybe it’s time for me (or one of us, at any rate) to learn how to be an English Corner facilitator?

In short, lunch was awesome. I felt like we accomplished more in that hour than we had since the beginning of the project, in terms of making contacts and solidifying our foothold within the community.

For the story of what happened during the children’s class, visit my children’s class blog.

latest busymaking

There’s a lot of stuff going on this weekend. At home, Zea (my niece) is coming over for a sleepover at our place; I’ve been away from the house all day, helping out with a neighbourhood project in Ottawa’s Chinatown. check out my children’s class blog, which I’ve just updated with a few wrap-up emails that journal our efforts to start up an outreach class.

baha’i fasting times for 2009

hey—just in time for the Fast, I’ve calculated and posted Ottawa’s Baha’i fasting times for 2009, along with links to print out fasting calendars for other major Canadian cities. Hope you find them useful, and here’s wishing you and yours a joyous and spiritually transformative Fast.

Read more about the Baha’i Fast, here and on

a day in the life

today’s children’s class was postponed ’til next week to accommodate the holding of an Ayyám-i-Há gift fair at the Bahá’í Centre. I slept in a little late – good for my body, I suppose, because I haven’t had lots of good sleep lately; but not so good for the organizers who asked if I could come in early to help set up :/ Things seem to have gone alright, though, and the event itself was a success, with many families arriving over the lunch hour with their children to take part in not only the gift fair, but also to make Ayyám-i-Há cards and candles. the proceeds from the gift fair were slated to pay for its expenses, and the remainder went to the Baha’i Fund.

after the gift fair, people quickly cleared out to make room for the visit of Mr. Rowhani, a representative from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada. I was asked to take cake of the bookstore during the talk he gave since there were no other volunteers present, so I ended up missing a great deal of it. I did manage to hear a few things, though; Mr. Rowhani gave the friends a detailed explanation of how the National Spiritual Assembly had been handling its recent financial crises. He also shared certain stories from the History of the Faith, especially relating to the trials ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went through as He was overseeing the construction of the Shrine of the Báb, all the while hiding the Blessed Báb’s remains until the hour finally came for them to be interred. the crowd emptied out by 5pm and another crowd moved in: youth this time, a whole mass of them from 15 years old and upwards, and again Mr. Rowhani addressed them. I peeked in on their session for a little while and it reminded me a lot of when I was a youth, and of how much love the Institutions and their members had (and have) for the youth. With them, Mr. Rowhani spent time listening to their questions and sharing his own experiences as a youth, dealing with things like peer pressure, finding confidence to teach, finding a Baha’i identity, and so on.

right now I’m going to close up the bookstore; hopefully I can catch the rest before it’s over.