This post was written in July when I was still in Japan— but I wanted to post my experience traveling and what I specifically learned about myself and religion. I originally didn’t want to post this mainly because I know it’s a fruity perspective of faith and I was nervous of getting negative feedback (aka being called a heretic haha). At this point, I want to be spiritually authentic.
It is the fifth week of my internship in Japan, and I am currently in bed with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (I wish I was kidding). To be quite honest, this trip has not exactly gone according to plan (no surprise). What was supposed to feel like my life’s work of pursuing a career in education has manifested itself into burn out, an extreme amount of self-doubt, and HFM Disease (seriously, I did not see the HFM one coming). Yet, I think it is easy to feel this way— especially in positions that require serving others. Whether it be teaching, ministry, social work, etc., these roles all require unconditional positive regard. In addition, serving requires the ego to be set aside. This most recent semester, I didn’t want to think about my upcoming senior year. I think a lot of it had to do with accepting what was changing around me, but it also was because I was so worried my ego would get in the way.
Disclaimer: There will be a few Game of Thrones references. I am just inspired! Actually, I have been binge watching the last few seasons because of my current condition.
Finding God In All Things
I wanted to call this blog post “Finding God In All Things” because my entire experience in Japan has been a search to find how God is working through my life. When it comes to faith, I believe questioning (God, the universe, etc.) is very human. You can imagine how many questions I had after catching HFM Disease. For those of you who don’t know me very well, I identify my faith in community. In other words, I see my faith best through others. I wish I could say I feel close to God when I speak words/ phrases in Latin— but unfortunately, that’s not me (if you have that gift, mad props). What I have found super ironic about this quest to find God in all things however, is that God was not in the places I’d expect to find God. To summarize, I decided to use this quote from Jewish Philosopher, Martin Buber. Followed by Buber’s quote, Author, Rabbi Harold Kushner, adds onto his words (I think it best explains my experience in Japan and my current perspective on faith).
God is not found in churches or synagogues. God is not found in holy books. God is not found in the hearts of the most fervent believer. God is found between people (Kushner’s addition). When someone acts toward another person as his religious faith tells him to, God comes and bridges the gap between them. They are joined for those moments by bonds of holiness. The religion of your heart becomes real only when it is translated into action.”
-Martin Buber, Rabbi Harold Kushner
If there is one place where I have experienced God’s presence this trip, it would be with the people I have encountered. To recap: I am hypersensitive. I have social anxiety. I have a tendency to plan extensively. I like to know what’s next on the agenda. Yet, this trip has really pushed me to be present and frankly, toss the agenda. If this were Game of Thrones, someone would have come up to me by now and have said, “You know nothin’, Ekman.”
Seriously, I wasn’t ready for this trip.
A Call To Serve
One of my favorite theologians, Richard Rohr, coincidentally wrote one of his weekly meditations on Education (Yes, I am subscribed to his daily meditation emails… this guy is woke ppl). Below are some of his words from this week’s meditation.
True holiness and wholeness come when we allow God’s love and grace to unfold in the present moment and we respond to what is before us. Holiness is simply being connected to our Source. From such a place, our compassionate response to suffering and need is drawn naturally—without being contrived or forced—from who we are in love, not from egoic motivations or fears.”
Richard Rohr’s words have reaffirmed in my life what ministry is— it is community building. It is walking with others in their times of need. It is setting aside the ego. It is not easy work whatsoever, but it is necessary work for the soul.
Faith Is Not Easy
As I mentioned earlier, I wish I was someone who could recite latin phrases and instantly feel closer to God. For awhile, I felt insecure in my faith. I was born and raised Catholic, yet I want to be at the forefront of the Church someday. I have known I wanted to work within a Church for quite some time, but I think it took a lot of discerning and courage to verbalize it. When people look at me, I can’t help but wonder what they think of me. My time in Japan has taught me to let go of the negativity that has surrounded my inner conflict with religion. Similar to how John Snow felt between the feud with the Night’s Watch and the Widlings, I wish there could be a bridge between different religions and traditions. I wish faith was a matter of community rather than a matter of numbers or conversions. I wish doctrine could be used for unconditional support and acceptance of all human persons rather than condemning individuals. I wish questioning and accepting one’s finitude was acknowledged as healthy and a normal part of growing rather than as weak or a lack of commitment to the Church in which one belongs.
Maybe there’s more to unpack, but that’s where I’m at.