Musashi Mix Inq

Palliativity 147: Observing Prayer

Posted on April 5, 2012

After a lifetime of being asked “what are you?”, the follow-up question is generally what faith was I raised in. I understand what everyone is trying to do and that generally they don’t mean to offend me. They just want an easy answer. I don’t really have one. Sorry for the inconvenience. My heritage and beliefs are not all that concise 😉

Over time, I’ve learned to enjoy watching the conversational mine-field dance steps taken by the overly curious when they suddenly realize they’ve ventured too far over the line.

Going back to the “raised in what faith” question, my answer is “No”. Religion never really clicked for me. As a kid, I was definitely given the option to go to temple or synagogue, but I never really saw the point of doing so. My grandparents on both sides never really treated religion as a guide. The importance of religion was that it supplied a great way to get family together while celebrating cultural heritage… and EAT.

Not regularly attending services meant that no matter what religious institution I was visiting, group prayer and song seemed to spontaneously happen around me. My parents told me to just follow along with the standing and sitting and bow my head. As a kid (and still as an adult) I would sneak glances at those in the process of worship with fascination. I think of it as observing prayer.

• • •

My cousins on both the Japanese and the Jewish sides however, took religion much more seriously. The Japanese side has followers of two sects of Buddhism as well as very enthusiastic Christians. Japanese American Evangelical Christians are a ethno-clave all to themselves. Before having a meal, my uncles and cousins always give a very indepth and personal grace. For a population that generally avoids any overt expressions of affection, grace gives an interesting opportunity to express one’s self to your family and loved ones. This openness always filled me with a sense of awe.

The Jewish tradition in my mother’s family, orthodox and reformed, has much more to do with punctuating the cycle of life. Every part of life has its own celebration and ceremony: birth, adulthood, marriage, death, mourning, and renewal. The cycle of the Torah is never ending and gave strength to formerly secular Jews in the aftermath of  genocide. Synagogue for me is a place to be thankful for life and to appreciate the human struggle to understand and grow while fighting to survive in an uncertain world.

• • •

Returning to the pre-ramble, what do I believe in? I think that’s a question that can’t be answered in words. I believe in action.

The alter pictured to the left is my family’s Hotokesan. I inherited it from my grandmother who inherited it from her parents, making it at least 100 years old. After leaving the Gila River Interment Camp, my grandparents bought the 3-flat where I grew-up (and currently live) in 1953. When I was small, the building was home to my great-grandmother, grandparents, great-uncle, uncle, my parents and I. I now live in what was my grandparents’ flat.

Though my partner and I have painted over the walls and renovated, I still think of it as my grandparents’ home. The alter sits where it always has, as far back as I can remember. Within its gilded walls are family treasures, funeral name-plates and white ashes.

Every Sunday I burn incense, as my grandmother did, and take a moment to remember my history. That’s all the spirituality I need.


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