Sunday, June 5, 2011

What's the Point?

Magnificent. Beautiful. Stunning. None of those words really capture the incredible awe that I experienced there at Ogden Point in Victoria. I was sitting in the bright sunlight, under a crystal clear blue sky, staring at the Olympic Mountains in the background, with the Pacific Ocean in front of me, and there, between the two, was a wall.

But not just any wall: The Unity Wall.

It's a very interesting wall, as you can tell from these photos. The mural is going to go the entire length of the wall, on both sides, and become the world's largest mural. The photo below is only part 1 of the piece.

As with any project of this immensity, it is being done in stages, and yesterday was the dedication ceremony for phase 2.

But what, you may be asking, does all this have to do with the Baha'i Faith?

I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

Let me begin with the first phase. You will see, if you look closely, which is difficult to do with that small version so here is a detail, a number of different elements in the work.

You'll notice the recurring theme of water and land. The theme of phase 1 was the animals of those two elements, which explains much. But what I want to point out is the imagery of the eagles here, in the very centre of the whole piece.

There was a man, Jacob Bighorn, who was dying in hospital. While he was there, he became friends with another man in the room across the way. Jacob, in case you couldn't guess, was a Baha'i. The other man's daughter, the designer of this mural, met Jacob whenever she went to visit her father. One afternoon, on her way to see him, she noticed all these eagles circling over the hospital. Many of the Aboriginal people were asking if a holy man had passed away, and, when she got there, she learned that Jacob had just died that morning.

It was this story that became the centrepiece for the mural.

Now, a little while later, they had finished phase 2, and the theme of this part was the historical presence of the Songhee and Esquimalt First Nations peoples.

As you can (barely) see here, there are some images of daily life of the First Nations people, including a few houses and a canoe visible above. The whole mural of this part of it is quite beautiful.

What you may notice is some text above the picture. This is a beautiful quote that is so appropriate given the setting. I don't have the text of the quote itself that is there, but the English version is: "Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified."

So, here I am, a kid from the prairies who became a member of the Baha'i community over 25 years ago, wonderfully dislocated on the West Coast of Canada, with some houses off to my left, in the city of Victoria, staring at the majestic mountains across the Salish Sea, on an island, talking about God with those around me. I think we hit every element of that prayer.

When I sat down and opened up my prayer book to read the English version, all the people around me began asking about it. They were so excited that I had a copy of the words in English, and that prayer book passed from person to person as all around me read it for themselves. Most of us had tears in our eyes at the fitting beauty of the text.

And then the ceremony began.

Actually, it continued.

It began a bit earlier when a few of us walked along the causeway above the mural as two elders blessed the whole piece with traditional cedar boughs and singing. We began at the far end and walked our way back towards the beginning. I kept near the elders so that I could hear the power of their words, and there was a woman, Linda, who was taking photos as we walked. At one point I noticed a piece of the cedar had broken off and fallen to the ground. I picked it up and gave to Linda. She was visibly touched by this. A few steps later she returned the favor as she picked up another piece. The piece that she gave me will be mailed to Jacob's son, Jordan, in Winnipeg, as a memento. I will be sending another piece to Jacob's widow, Deloria, as she was unable to be there.

Linda, incidentally, was the one sitting next to me who had first asked if she could read the English translation of Baha'u'llah's words.

A few minutes later, after the more formal part of the ceremony began, the MC was getting ready to present a gift to the elders who had blessed the wall from above, and at that moment, a bald eagle flew up behind the audience and in full glory landed on a light pole, where she remained for the entire ceremony.

I felt that this was a loving gift from Jacob.

So, as I ask in the title, what's the point? It's Ogden Point. Where the mountains and the seas come together in a point of beauty, combining the majesty of God from the mountains, the bounty of God from the ocean, and overseen by the omnipresence of God with the sun shining down in its full splendour. It is where three nations, the Songhees, Esquimalt and Canada, have come together in peace, love and respect to build a work of art that welcomes all to these beautiful shores.

As Baha'u'llah said, "Blessed is the spot..."


  1. truly blessed... wow. thanks mead!!

  2. As a grateful Baha'i brother of Jacob Bighorn, I appreciate your fine honour of him.