Yesterday, for Easter, Tony and I drove to an enchanted Japanese Shinto shrine a half-hour’s travel from Seattle. It was the Great Spring Ceremony. We were invited as guests to celebrate the Kami, the personalities of the earth, waters and sky according to Japanese cosmology. The ceremony was a profoundly beautiful one: chanting meditations, taiko drums, a traditional dancer with the shamisen instrument, and a walk through the mossy gardens by the river where stone statues of frogs, foxes and cats bless the land and the people. There is a deeply pan-human, ancient and natural appeal of Shinto as a surviving route back into communion with Great Nature.
In my study of Shinto I maintain a grounding in the mystical tradition of Christianity, because I do not see hard-and-fast divisions between the sacred in its forms. I am fortunate in the ability to see a blending of ideas as a means to wholeness. Antagonism is not wholeness; the refusal to syncretize diverse ways of being has lead to useless suffering. We retain unique traditions: blue can still be blue and green can still be green, but see how beautiful they are when they blend, pigment by pigment. In my cosmology, all the personalities of the Creation are from the Creator. The souls of animals and plants are completely in relationship with the Creator in their own way. They are the ones who were with Jesus in the wilderness.
“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
so tells the story according to Mark. In this way, a spiritual imagination is an act of maturity.
I have studied how spending time outside in nature, as well as nurturing the better parts of our “primitive” past (handicrafts, learning through action before books, etc) makes us more fulfilled as a species, including the spiritual realm. We will continue to integrate so many lifeways, for to be well is to be whole. To be spiritual is to be bodily.
Keep your eyes on the eternal beauty at the heart of the world. The following is a prayer from the book “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth” by Stuart D. B. Picken, said during Misogi, the ritual of cleansing your body and spirit in the river.
Although the impure and polluted appears before my eyes, I will not let it blind me.
Although it strikes my ears, I will not let it make me deaf.
Although my nose senses it, I will not let it deform my soul.
Although it enters my mouth, I will not let it destroy my taste for life.
Although it touches my body, I will not let it cling to me.
Although I may even desire it, I will not let that desire dwell within me.
Purified, we become free.
Purified, our eyes are opened to the beauty and glory of nature.
Purified, our ears can hear the harmony of the spheres even above the discord of life.
Purified, our sense of fragrance and spirituality is heightened.
Purified, our taste can savor the subtle riches of life.
Purified, our hands can touch the world in its strength and delicacy.
Purified, our eyes see and grasp the world as it is.
Through these means, we will magnify the purity of our spirits
and seek the divine within the human.
Picken, Stuart D. B. Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge, 2002. Print.