An Angel at Breakfast

Blueberries

Image: Flickr, here

Stories around food are often portals to holiness. One of the best things about living in a place that enables contact between people who cultivate and/or make food, and those who feast on the fruits of this work, is the access we have to this beautiful ecology of relations: nature, food, stories, people.

We need to be re-membered in our communities. This Jesus knew. We need both food and stories for proper nourishment. To participate fully and to enjoy both we need time and attention.

“Blessed are you, God of All Creation . . . Through your Goodness, we have these gifts to offer, which Earth has given & human hands have made.”

These things were on my mind as I wistfully scooped blueberries into my bowl this morning. An enormous box of blueberries arrived last week, fresh-picked from the garden of an unmet friend. A wonderful surprise it was and cause for great celebration! Jam-making ensued almost immediately; there was sharing and freezing and a sizeable container is refrigerated from which handfuls of the dark, sweet spheres of simple pleasure are daily enjoyed.

The blueberries, abundant harvest of our Unmet Friend, he calls ‘my mother’s gift’. I’m told his mother was a devout Christian. I’m never quite sure of how people mean this and so I tend to wait for the meaning to emerge and take shape as the story progresses. Here, though, to be so named is to have chosen a path that is not so dissimilar, I imagine, to that chosen by members of the earliest of Christian communities. With less than 1% of the Japanese Christian, it goes without saying that  you stand out; you become what theologians call a ‘resident alien‘. It can be a costly commitment. When I hear people so labelled here I often feel something quietly heroic and bitter-sweet.

My morning berries are coloured by these stories. Their texture and taste are tender and sweet. They have an air about them that causes me to dream of the lady who planted the bushes, who lived alone in a big house and enjoyed the solace of classical music and kept the faith and planted fruit trees because fruit in its season was something you could share with your neighbours. The bushes had not reached maturity by the time she went Home to God, their yields not nearly as bountiful as they are now, but her spirit lives on in her son’s generosity.

I gratefully receive her soft, sweet indigo blessing.

I am glad to be among her neighbours.

 

Two types of Truth

The ‘new’ physics and cosmology is magical stuff. Thrilling and strange it offers some pretty wild fields of delight for minds of every shape and aptitude in which to romp. (Caveat: preference given to the Curious Variety . . . 😉 I’ve been dipping into this collection of dialogues with the Dalai Lama recently. I’ve been turning over this idea like a smooth stone in my pocket, or a string of prayer beads, from Niels Bohr:

There are two types of truths: simple truths and deep truths. A simple truth is a truth where the opposite is not true. A deep truth is where the opposite is also true. 

See where this leads you as you breathe peace into this day . . .

 

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?

Few of those who know and teach young Japanese women of a certain age will have been surprised by the statistics released in the past week indicating that around 40% of women aspire to the life of The Domestic Goddess; in other words, to give their energies to being wives and mothers. Unsurprisingly, roughly the same percentage of men were reported to have concurred that women should be stay-at-home wives.* Of the women’s choices most of us said: Who can fault that? One of the subtexts being: . . . in a society which often does not justly see or value a woman’s worth in the workplace? Why not put your energies into something where you know you have real work and do not have to battle social prejudice every step of the way? A large majority of the women polled hold that a wife should dedicate herself to child-rearing when children are young (which I think is eminently sensible and is supported by law).

Family values are laudable; traditional Asian gender roles and expectations, not so much.

The WSJ post reporting the findings, written by a woman, unfortunately betrays just the kind of bias that is often considered the “natural” way of things and seems to pass unnoticed, like water off a duck’s back. For starters there’s the title of the article, supposedly focused (look at its tags) on Japan’s population woes and the PM’s strategy called ‘womenomics’: “Survey Finds Some Single Men with Relationship Woes.” (I know single women in similar straits! And now they’re being ‘handled’ by the government, too.) The writer indicates in the first paragraph that Japan has some mountains to climb to reach a more equitable society. So far, so true.

Then come the results of the poll. It starts with the finding that 40% of unmarried men in their 20s have never had a romantic relationship with a woman. (See this excellent and balanced write up on the so-called Japanese Herbivorous Male phenomenon). Alas, hot on the heels of the image of the (possibly?) Lonely Young Man conjured up from that statistic, we get the Gold-Digger Woman archetype [or is she intended to be the Practical No-Nonsense Woman?] roaring up from her shadowy realm (Is this meant to explain and justify the poor men’s suggested backwardness?): ‘

More than 2/3 of women in their 30s said they were looking for an annual income of at least 4 million yen/about $40,000 from a marriage partner.’

Then, back to the Male Marriage Aspirant, who, it turns out, is ineligible because ‘fewer than a third of unmarried male respondents in their 30s earn that much.’ What is the country to do? Where can we begin to dialogue on these sticky traditions for the sake of a flourishing society?

I found myself over the week thinking on these numbers and on the ways that this gender equity conversation (and it is becoming a conversation in Japan, which is good, even if it is for reasons rather more cold and instrumental than would be my ideal) connects with my life work, educating in a women’s university which claims itself as mission school. I’ve isolated a few questions that I’ll be pondering:

  •  (How?) Should a woman’s education be different than a man’s? (We all agree, don’t we, that equality does not mean sameness; difference is both inevitable and it is good. Without it cooperation & collaboration is impossible.)
  • (How?) Could/Should education in a mission-school offer something different from the run-of-the-mill university? Do we have a prophetic [and possibly counter-cultural] word to speak? Here, I am thinking in particular of Noah Berlatsky’s review in The Atlantic of Anne Allison’s book, Precarious Japan (which I have yet to read). His concluding paragraph reads:

Perhaps the problem […] is not with the methods we are using to link education to economic advancement, but linking education and economic advancement in the first place. Uncertain work and falling wages have contributed to the precariousness in Japan […] but aren’t its only cause. Rather […] the unified emphasis on economic achievement and global advancement as the social purpose has left people with few resources with which to confront hard times. The path from family to school to corporation in the context of expanding capitalism underwrote people’s social place to such an extent that without it, many individuals become placeless. (my emphases)

  • What are the purposes of a 21st century liberal arts education for Asian women?
  • Are the behaviours of young people criticised by politicians (e.g. marrying late, if at all; opting for ‘freeteristic’** options rather than the corporate ladder and its ominously low bamboo ceilings) actually a kind of wisdom that represents resistance to capitulating to the spirit of the age? (OK, that is a romantic and vague one but I sense there is something to it. I’m thinking of Leary’s ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ or its interestingly apposite updated, if already slightly obsolete, version: ‘turn on, boot up, jack in’? Grist for another post one day, perhaps.)

It’s been an awful news week around the world, oh, the birth pangs of creation! Somehow, and oddly, perhaps, I found solace in these lines of Ilia Delio’s from the wonderful article in NCR last week by Jamie Manson:

“We are dying — and that’s OK . . . It just means something new is emerging. We need to become young again.”

Amen, amen!


*I was gratified to see at the close of the article the following acknowledgement:

“Several of the questions were worded in a way that associated women, but not men, with household chores and child-rearing. The survey didn’t include questions about a male role in the home. “Indeed, there may have been some bias to these questions,” said an analyst at the Meiji Yasuda Institute. He said the institute would consider in the future surveying responses to the statement, “Men should be stay-at-home husbands.”

** This is what a ‘freeter’ is. More depth, here.

Cosmic Pop & Sizzle

There’s a musician, I hear, who has continuously recorded the sounds of nature, who claims that there is a mysterious moment around four in the morning when all birds and insects enter a momentary silence. In this moment, this in-breath preceding the Lauds of creation, there is utter stillness and quiet. And then,

the Song

begins

again.

Well, I was late for that particular moment but I was up at 4ish going down to the river, over the rickety bridge and into the magic forest. Cool twilight clung to my skin like a garment; the first flush of light, scarlet, rose on the eastern horizon, the morning star twinkled. As I entered the forest, the intense early morning fragrance of jasmine slowed my steps. The hush of morning vibrated with a gentle buzz of insects soulfully welcoming the day. (Lauds had evidently begun!) In the near distance were the dulcet tones of shakuhachi piping up the sun, soft waves of solemnity and joy, accompanied by the plucked strings of the Japanese harp, the koto. I was on my way to the ceremonial Lotus opening.

dawn music 1

Once a year gatherings are held from four in the morning for admirers to come and tune in to hear the flowers blooming. In Japan it is said that the moment a lotus flower opens up, it makes a “pop” sound. This is not the kind of sound that you hear with your ears. It is the kind that you sense in the body and hear with your heart. I was struck by people’s dress: a semi-formal affair it seemed, special but welcoming, rather like church. (Kimonos aplenty!) Standing around the lotus ponds, thick with leaves as big as elephants’ ears, voices were lowered: the holy was nigh.

pink lotus

In Buddhist tradition, the lotus flower is as central a symbol as the lily is to the Christian. Significantly, each flower is associated with messages to the mothers of the Buddha and Jesus. The lotus symbolises insight and enlightenment. The lily is said to be a symbol of purity and innocence and virginity but I don’t know how those associations came to be (without a good dose of ‘mansplaining‘); they certainly are not where I’d intuitively go with the lily. For one thing, the scent is a siren. I rather like it but acknowledge it can be overpowering. The lily reminds me of trumpet: an ear trumpet, perhaps. It may sound a bit wacky, but why not? The lily as herald and human-sized antenna: God chose the ear.

I was thinking, with a light and simple morning mind about sound in a kind of a cosmic way.The hard buds of the lotus open up all at once, hence the pop. Ancient yogic texts call the Big Bang the blooming of the primal lotus.

I was thinking, too, about the physicists at the Bell Labs in the 60s, who discovered that the incessant hiss their equipment was picking up that they just could not get rid of, came from the Big Bang’s photons tickling their antenna’s receiver (a.k.a. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation). Yes, people of planet Earth: Behold and Be Amazed! We can hear that primal sound. [I also rather liked this one]. How marvelous is this?

These cosmic sound waves are 30,000 light-years wide and are 55 octaves below what humans can hear. But when they are shifted to regions of the audible spectrum, the cry from the birth of the cosmos can be heard. [Source: BBC]

The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is ‘Listen!’; ‘Shema!’ (Hear!) the Jewish prayer proclaims.

Jesus Enters His-Story via the spiral of the Ear.

Jesus Enters His-Story via the spiral of the Ear.

Image, NY MetMuseum, Salvador DaliMadonna (1958)

_________________

Summer sizzles in Japan and from this one personal perspective it is most welcome. The ringing in my ears (Big Bang Photons? Why not?!) gets a host of critters to sizzle, buzz and aum along with. I am positively vibrant with the sounds of the universe! There is the Worshipful Company of Cicadas whose daytime antics, creaking and quacking and shimmering and jangling, unfailingly lift my spirits into pure joy (and often hilarity). There is, too, the Worshipful Company of Crickets whose lullaby is like no other I know for its comfort and encouragement.

That early morning in the Garden I sat at the poets’ pavilion beside the running stream and felt cooled by the sounds. My notebook was giving off the most wonderful wafts of scent having been crammed into my backpack against a little sachet of (real) incense. At sun up the pigeons began to growl and splashes of colour became apparent among the sea of green leaves on the ponds. The musicians, facing east, continued to play until the sun was truly riz’n.

The Sun has Risen

The Sun has Risen

[]