A Tokyo Meeting for Worship
Today, June 6, 1999, we Quakers in Tokyo met at the meetinghouse for a meeting for worship. Heavy on our hearts was our anxiety for the welfare of our clerk, Ishitani-san, who was recovering from major surgery on his malignant bladder. Ishitani-san had been a boy in Nagasaki during the atomic bombing and many felt his cancer was the result of the bomb's radiation. Another result of the event had been Ishitani-san's life-long struggle against war.
After a half hour of silence, the first one to speak was my soul partner, Yeri. She spoke about the political refugees hidden away in Japan's immigration center near Nagasaki. Being prisoners of conscious, they were unable to return to their native countries and they had no other countries to go. Japan has a strict policy of not normally accepting political refugees. So the refugees stay inside of the facility with indefinite life sentences. Many had given up hope and suffered from psychosomatic physical illnesses, waiting for their physical deaths to follow their spiritual ones.
Then a long-time attendee of the meeting, a political refugee from Sri Lanka, spoke. He reported that Ishitani-san was in very good spirits and that we all had much to learn from his example in leading a simple Quaker life with humility while vigorously pursuing peace.
After some silence, a woman spoke saying that speaking with Ishitani-san on the phone, she learned that he had received great strength from the Psalms 23. She then read it in its entirety, including with those well-known words, "He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies."
Listening to those words in this context I found a special meaning. The writer of Psalms does not proclaim the Lord will destroy one's enemies or even hide one from those enemies. But the Lord places one among one's enemies and yet provides one's welfare.
I considered how our enemies are other humans. We are obviously social animals but as we move along in our pack formations, we need not be simply clogs within a social machine. Yet we so often seem to be so. Too often we turn our heads away from injustices and sufferings, thinking we are denying or ignoring such evils or unpleasantness. When, in fact, we are denying the human virtues that set us aside from simply being parts of the mass. In other words, when we turn away from others we turn away from ourselves. Or, as Walt Kelly noted, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
As we spend deep moments of reflection and meditation during our meetings for worship and other private moments, we can witness our weaknesses and failings. In so doing we can see our microcosms as reflections of larger evils and injustices around us. Yet at the same time we can experience the Light and hope of God and we have the daily opportunity to share that light with others around us.
In Nagasaki many died over 50 years ago and others today quietly die as a result of people acting for the "common good." As we prayed for Ishitani-san recovery and celebrated his humble greatness, perhaps we realized that simply accepting the common good is insufficient. As mystics we may rejoice in gratitude in our communion with Christ. And yet, that, too, is insufficient by itself. As Henri Nouwen once wrote, "The appearance of Jesus in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross."
-- Tom Coyner
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