A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Ranwa Hammamy is a UU seminarian & 2015 M.Div candidate at Union Theological Seminary. In September 2014 she was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Ranwa reflects on her powerful, moving experiences in Japan.

Sitting in my dorm at Union, I often hear the bells of Riverside Church chime in the morning to announce the 8:00AM hour. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to pause and listen to their familiar ring, reminding me that a new day is beginning – new opportunities, learning, and connections await. On days when my time management is lacking, their sound is also a reminder that I should be preparing for class. The Riverside bells have become a welcome piece of my routine, serving roles beyond simply being a marker of time.

Since my return from Japan, these bells have taken on a new function. They remind me of another sacred sound, one that became familiar and welcome in my routine at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine. Every morning for my 10 days at the shrine, I would hear the sound of the taiko drum at 8:25AM, five evenly spaced beats, announcing that it was time for chohai, or morning worship. On most of these mornings, I would be helping clean the inside walkways of the shrine or sweep leaves from the gravel paths of its outside grounds.

This practice of cleaning, of purifying the shrine, took place every day before worship. Its deliberate motions helped me remember each morning that the ground I walked upon was sacred. When the drums sounded at 8:25, I would pause in my cleaning and perform temizu, a purification ritual with water, before entering the main sanctuary for worship. The drum would return later in the service, as the leading priest would beat a specific rhythm towards the end of worship. I asked Ochiai, one the priests at the shrine, what the drum beat meant. He told me it was another form of purification. When I felt its vibrations run through my body, I was inclined to agree. (more…)

A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Sarah E. Gillespie is a UU seminarian & 2014 M.Div candidate at Andover Newton Theological School. In July 2013 she was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Sarah reflects on her experiences in Japan.

TGS2013-1It doesn’t surprise me that my favorite characters to write in Japanese calligraphy turned out to be “thank you” and “kami.” On my very first day at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, I found myself staring across my desk at a woman writing elegantly and effortlessly with a handmade brush and jet-black ink. I watched her work intensely until she looked up and noticed my staring. Lucky for me she spoke English well and told me that she was writing the names and prayers of visitors who purchase shrine tokens. I had a bad case of jet lag, culture shock, and an upset stomach, but I was captivated by her and her art in that moment and wanted to learn more.

Eventually this lovely woman, Yumiko, took time to teach me the method for writing Japanese calligraphy. I learned about eight or ten words total during my lessons with her but in my practice I kept coming back to “thank you” and “kami.” These are the words that best describe my time at the shrine. I felt grateful for the experiences which, in turn, helped me listen deeper to my spiritual center. (more…)

A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Elizabeth Nguyen is a third year UU seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. In August 2012 she was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Elizabeth reflects on her experiences in Japan.

And the cypress soars up, yes! Of course that divinity would come to earth here.

It’s mid-September and in the living room of my Boston apartment, the afternoon sun makes the books all splayed out before me all pretty and glowing. To call them piles would be generous. Rev. Yamamoto Yukiyasu’s Introduction to Shinto nestles near Howe’s The Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism. Bass drifts up from the street, in this new neighborhood, where Washington St. becomes Hyde Park Avenue and I’m hunkered down with words and stories all around. I’m supposed to be studying for my interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, immersing myself in history and theology, personal reflection and paperwork. But that’s what’s next. This is about the thing behind me, fanning out so sweet and strange, a recent past now far away: My August in Asia. Three weeks in Vietnam bouncing from South to North and back again, beaches and tiny squids red with chili and bright with lemongrass, the street my father grew up on: a place I’d never imagined I’d visit. And then a miraculous gift: ten days at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, near Suzuka, Japan. (more…)

They’re coming to simply survive.


In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization,BorderLinks. The most recent trip took place from May 25-28. In this blogpost trip participant Julie Amery reflects on the experiences the delegation had, and how they relate to our country’s self-understanding. The BorderLinks service learning trips are made possible through the generous contributions of UUA and UUSC donors.

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Julie overlooking Nogales, Sonora from HEPAC.

I was in fifth grade, I was required to memorize “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, the words engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was part of our unit on immigration, when we learned about America as the great melting pot of cultures, a land that offered hope to people who needed it.

Though I have for some time been aware of the complications and injustices around current immigration issues, I guess a part of me still held these words close to my heart and somewhere inside, I still clung to the belief that we’re a nation where the oppressed can find some comfort and relief. Crazy to believe, considering what I had read and heard. But it was only when I saw the wall right in front of me—the wall that keeps Mexicans and people further south from entering our country—that it really sunk in. The beautiful words of Emma Lazarus speak of a drastically different America.

That’s so often the case, though. We can be aware of a bad or unjust situation, but until we have some personal connection to it or an experience with it, it’s intellectualized. We can be angry or frustrated, we can even fight effectively to stop it, but I think until it somehow becomes personal, our hearts aren’t completely engaged. At least, that’s how it is with me.

Walking along the wall, on both sides of the border, was just one of the many such experiences on my recent trip to Tucson as part of the UUA’s delegation to Borderlinks.

We also sat in a US District Courtroom in Tucson and watched as 70 men and women were sentenced—all within a span of 45 minutes—for illegally entering the country and led out in shackles. Some would be heading to prison, others to a detention center and others dropped back at the border.

We sat in the home of Celeste and her four children in the poor, filthy and crime-ridden city of Nogales, Mexico, where we ate belly-warming chicken soup and heard about how she and her family had gone to the US for a few years, just so that they could save to buy this tiny structure that sits in a slum. Yet her warmth and hospitality trumped the surroundings.

We talked with Jeanette Pazos, the passionate and compassionate executive director of Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (Home of Hope and Peace) which provides meals to children in Nogales who wouldn’t otherwise eat, and helps poor women build skills so that they can earn a little money as well as some dignity.

We walked in the Arizona desert, finding jackets, backpacks, and worn out shoes—one of which would fit a child of about eight years.

We spoke with migrants who had just been sent back across the border, and with the people who help them with medical and transportation needs. We worshiped in a Mexican Presbyterian church, where we were welcomed like old friends. We spoke with undocumented students in the US—bright students, top in their respective classes—who can’t get financial aid for college without social security numbers. We learned about how NAFTA helped to create the severe poverty that drives people here.

Over and over, one simple idea was reinforced from nearly everyone we met.  People come to our country from the south for really one sole purpose: to feed and shelter their families. People in Mexico are starving. Children are starving. They aren’t coming here to achieve the American dream. They’re coming to simply survive.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

May BorderLinks trip begins

In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. In this blogpost Rev. Eric Cherry, the Director of the UUA’s International Office, describes what is planned for the third trip which will begin on May 25th. The BorderLinks service learning trips are made possible through the generous contributions of UUA and UUSC donors.

It was a privilege to journey with Unitarian Universalists who are engaged in a diverse array of ministries during the BorderLinks delegation last January.  And last month (April) a second UUA/UUSC delegation had an equally powerful experience. Together the people on these delegations grew in understanding the complex justice issues related to the US/Mexico border.  They also found room for theological reflection about those matters.  And, through the eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart connections with people living in this context, each returned deeply committed to the ongoing religious work for immigration justice.

The participants in this third UUA/UUSC delegation are also faith leaders engaged in diverse ministries: lay and ordained, in both parish and community settings.  And, they are sure to have  a deep and rich experience that will include visits with:

  • Scholarships A-Z: A network of students and advisors working to make education accessible for all students. They help connect students to available resources and train them to be their own advocates.
  • Grupos Beta: A Federal Mexican Organization that has offices along the northern and southern borders of Mexico and one in D.F.  There mission is to protect the migrant.
  • The Green Valley Samaritans: Volunteers who to into the desert on water runs and searches  Their goal is to help protect any migrants they come across in the desert, in an effort to prevent deaths along the border region.
  • Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC): HEPAC is a sister organization to BorderLinks and a community center in Nogales, Sonora. Programs offered at HEPAC include adult education and training classes, and the Child Food Security Program, which provides lunch to children and education for their families on nutrition and gardening. HEPAC also is home to a women’s cooperative that produces jewelry that raises awareness about deaths in the desert.
  • Observing Operation Streamline and analyzing its injustices with legal professionals who confront it constantly.

Further stories from the journey will be posted  after the trip.  Please come back to see the reflections of the participants.

 

From Odumase, Ghana: Education is Medicine

Lorella Hess is a member of the UUA delegation that is currently visiting the “Every Child is Our Child” program partners of the UU-UNO in Ghana.  In this blogpost she shares reflections following visits to schools near Odumase.

Conditions in these schools are primitive. The structures are basic and, in some cases, falling apart. Textbooks are battered and in painfully short supply.  And still the teachers and headmasters know education is the best chance these children will have to improve their lives.

The Queen Mothers know it, too, which is why they have partnered with UU-UNO to get the children’s school expenses paid.

It is easy to care about these children, and for all the poverty and loss in their young lives they have the look of people who know they are loved.
Signs in the classroom read “Rest is Medicine.” “Cleanliness is Medicine.” “Vegetables are Medicine.” Good advice for leading a healthy life.

But the subtext underlying everything we have seen here is that Education is one of the medicines these children need most of all.

A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Christian Schmidt is a third year UU seminarian at Andover Newton Theological School. In August 2011 he was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Christian describes his experience there.

A Sacred Place
by Christian Schmidt

I don’t speak Japanese, I had only the barest notion what Shinto was all about, and I had never been to Asia before. And none of that was going to stop me from spending two weeks at Tsubaki Grand Shrine, a 2,000-year-old Shinto shrine in the Japanese countryside.

I learned more than I will ever be able to express, but it might boil down to this: know where you are, be prepared and be open. If I can take these simple things from my two weeks at the shrine, visiting as part of a program that sends Unitarian Universalist seminarians to spend time at Tsubaki each year. (more…)

UUA Seminarian Scholar writes from Tsubaki Grand Shrine

 

Christian Schmidt (the UUA’s 2011 Tsubaki Grand Shrine Seminarian Scholar) writes from TGS after the first three days of his two-week stay

It’s been a busy few days at Tsubaki Grand Shrine.

In my first three days here, I have been given Shinto priest clothing to wear, been introduced to the shrine’s ceremonies, and worn a loincloth while shouting at the top of my lungs and then standing under a freezing-cold waterfall. I’ve also eaten more fish than I have in years, and seen a beetle that was almost three inches long. More on all that later.  (Continue reading on Christian’s blog)