Friday, 15 February 2013
Belonging and not belonging
Nana and Kasumi dropped by to ask about Chaplaincy events. They were obviously at a bit of a loss about what to do. We chatted and as luck would have it our sports coordinator Sheila King was passing at that moment and she signed them up for golf lessons, table tennis and cycling (Sheila doesn't hang about!). After she had left we continued to converse over tea. Having looked at all the purely social activities that the Chaplaincy offers (covert ways of gradually softening students up so that we can talk to them about Jesus!) I said: "Do you have any faith?" "No faith," they said. "Well I don't think you'd be interested in our Lenten retreat then", I said. "What is Lent?" asked Nana. I summarised all the principle truths of our faith in about five minutes. They looked suitably interested. They attend a Catholic university founded by religious sisters in Japan, though only a few of their fellow students are Catholics. "Are you sure you have no faith?" I asked. "Do you pray?" "Oh yes," said Nana "I pray sometimes." And we were off. They told me about how they sometimes pray at Buddhist shrines or pray privately when they know that somebody close to them is in need. We read the YouCat paragraph entitled "Is prayer a flight from reality?" Then Kasumi said that she had recently read a book entitled something like "Why Japanese people are not religious." "We don't not have faith," she said, slowly, smiling with proper pride at managing a double negative, "it's just that we don't belong to a religion." Realising that these moments seldom happen again I launched into an account of everything I know about Japanese Catholicism, drawing on my reading some years ago now of a couple of novels by Shushako Endo and a brief account I've read of the martyrdom of St Paul Mikki and his companions. I made as if to place a crucifix on the ground and said "And the cruel emperor said, 'Simply tread upon the cross and your lives will be saved' but they refused so they took them out to the beach and crucified them there" (I had my arms stretched out dramatically at this point, rather self-consciously, as a long phalanx of students were filing past after their lectures). Then Nana said something very beautiful, in a slightly halting English which lent gravity to what she said, and her eyes were smiling as she spoke: "It's difficult to say where is the boundary between belonging and not belonging."