Impressions from Prayer Leaders
Following the 2020 Symphony of Peace Prayers, the prayer leaders and many people around the world who took part in the online ceremony sent us their impressions and experiences. We are pleased to share some of these with our readers.
Imam Muhammed Rasit Alas, Imam at Tokyo Camii (Mosque) and Turkish Cultural Center
I was very much looking forward to this year’s SOPP, set amidst the greenery of nature. However, as the new coronavirus spread around the world in February and March, I wondered how things would unfold. Would the SOPP be cancelled? Or would it perhaps take place on the internet? So, when I was asked to be a prayer leader for the online broadcast, I was already mentally prepared.
I am sure it was difficult for the Byakko staff to make all the advance preparations, but I was very happy to be able to participate in the ceremony through my video recording, which took place in the prayer hall of the Tokyo Camii and Turkish Cultural Center. The Tokyo Camii (Mosque) is included in Tokyo’s top places to visit on TripAdvisor. It is an open, sacred place where Muslims and non-Muslims can meet in Japan.
For a Muslim, praying in a mosque gives us a hundred times greater guarantee from God than praying at home. But when a dangerous virus is spreading as it is now, and we cannot move around, we treat our home as a mosque and pray there. Regardless of the location, the important thing is to pray from the bottom of our hearts. Allah is always watching over us and hearing our prayers, so it is fine to pray anywhere, I feel.
When I offer a prayer in front of a large crowd of people at Fuji Sanctuary, my heart is uplifted. This time, I read the Quran and closed my eyes as I prayed. I called to mind an image of Fuji Sanctuary, and had the feeling that I was standing in front of all the people there. In that sense, for me, my prayer was no different than in any other year.
The day of the SOPP fell during Ramadan, so I watched the YouTube video at a later date. Watching the SOPP on YouTube was very different than praying with everyone face-to-face at Fuji Sanctuary, but since I was used to participating in the SOPP out in nature, I went out to my car, surrounded by greenery, and there I watched the video to the end.
This new coronavirus is affecting both our work and personal life in many different ways. It has put our social habits and customs on hold, and because of that, we are able to think more about this world and about our future. My family lives in Turkey, and we continue to be separated. I hope that, by feeling the irreplaceable presence of our family, friends, and others, we will be able to create a peaceful world free of wars and conflicts.
I had been planning to end my service in Japan and return home at the end of May. I had thought that I would not be able to participate in any more SOPP ceremonies, but in the end I was able to take part by recording my prayer. And due to the coronavirus, my work in Japan has been extended for another four years. Therefore, I look forward to seeing everyone at Fuji Sanctuary next year, in good health and with a smiling face. I hope you will all be well until then!
Rev. Genzo Makino, Hindu Spiritual Leader
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for being able to participate in this year’s SOPP program, with its wonderful video and music, and to join hearts in praying for world peace together with all of you. This year, although I joined in the ceremony through the internet broadcast, I felt that I was able to connect more deeply with the various prayer leaders, and to pray together with them. In particular, during the prayer of Gratitude for All Life on Earth, which is deeply moving in its words alone, the images and music conveyed a tenderness and beauty, and a sense of God’s love and joy, that could not be expressed in words, and it resonated deeply in my heart. To all the staff who planned and implemented such a marvelous program, may you be blessed with abundant happiness!
Amidst the common crisis we are facing due to the new coronavirus, I felt that this year’s SOPP was a prayer event in which we could more intensely pray and feel love for our fellow human beings, beyond the barriers of ideology and religion.
Many Hindu leaders throughout the world place great value on the teaching that we are divine beings (known in Hinduism as Aham Brahmasmi), and they focus on activities such as character building, education, and social services for people in the modern era. I hope and pray that all people, in a spirit of oneness, will be able to transcend differences of religion and ideology and work together to build a new world.
I believe the day is not far off when your precious efforts in praying for world peace over the years will bear fruit, and with our own eyes, we will see the realization of a peaceful world here on earth.
From here on, in the shift from the old era of conflict to a new era of peace, it seems that major changes will take place at all levels and in all spheres of activity. I would like to continue praying and working for world peace together with all of you. I pray for your continued success, and send you my gratitude. Thank you very much.
Mr. Shinjo Nohara, Abbot of Soto-Shu Kaizozan Ryuunji Temple
While the idea of ‘prayer’ is familiar to all of us, it is also something very profound. And, it is our best and our final foundation. Regardless of our intelligence or depth of understanding, regardless of whether we are in this present world or in the spiritual world, prayer is a light that reveals and illuminates everything in existence.
People’s states of mind may differ—they may feel gratitude, anger, joy, or sorrow, they may feel confused, or awakened. Yet in this shrinking world, despite the challenges we face, many people around the world, whether or not they adhere to a religion, are dedicated to their spiritual development, and in their own familiar places, they were able to freely connect in prayer through the SOPP. Today, in addition to feeling this universal significance of prayer, I was reminded that we can connect in prayer anytime, and that as we travel through life, prayer is indispensable to the development of our essential self, like another form of spiritual breathing. I have nothing but gratitude for this awareness.
Of course, while there are some who have deepened their understanding and familiarity with prayer through this year’s SOPP, I know that there are also many people around the world who feel no such thing, and who have no direct connection. However, if we devote ourselves body and soul to praying for peace, realizing the significance and preciousness of this act and further deepening our understanding of truth, and then sincerely convey our understanding to the people in our lives, our daily prayers will work more powerfully and concretely, becoming an unwavering light that illuminates both ourselves and others, and a great force for the realization of world peace. In that sense, I feel it is important for people to practice and experience prayer for themselves, just as it is, as a way of supporting and deepening their joy and peace of mind, without any need for judgment.
I hope that I will again be able to pray for world peace, regardless of time or place, together with all of the noble SOPP colleagues, who understand the significance of prayer. Thank you all for your support. May peace prevail on Earth.
Mr. Daisuke Ogino, Chief Priest at Samuhara Shrine
Many times I have sat in the large prayer field at Fuji Sanctuary to take part in the SOPP, experiencing the scene of prayers being sent out amidst the natural surroundings, each individual prayer being amplified as it spreads out across borders as a pure wish for peace. This year, the pandemic has become a barrier preventing direct contact between people, and I think the way of holding the event and offering prayers this year also serves as a form of practice. I was asked to lead the Shinto prayer this year, and I humbly accepted the role with the feeling that I would serve as best I could.
Usually, we share the space at Fuji Sanctuary, sitting within arm’s reach and spreading out widely as we resonate with each other’s prayer vibrations and thoughts of peace. But in thinking about it, we are already sharing the space on this same earth. Believing in kotodama (the spiritual power of words), I offered my prayer with the wish that Goi Sensei’s powerful, universal prayer May peace prevail on Earth would reach those who resonate with its vibration.
With the knowledge that all humanity is one community, I believe that this selfless prayer for peace, born from the innate goodness of human beings, transcends boundaries of language and culture. The sincere gratitude of those who take joy in this prayer will, I think, please the divinities of all religious denominations.
Thanks to the many seeds of prayer that have been planted thus far, I was grateful to be able to share my prayer for peace, and to continue sowing seeds of prayer at the SOPP. Thank you very much.
Fr. Rocco Viviano, Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator at Xaverian Missionaries
This year’s SOPP was held online, and although we were not able to gather in person, having the technology to maintain our connection is, I believe, a gift from God.
Of course, praying together is very different than praying separately. Coming together to pray is essential to the Christian religion. Jesus himself said: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). For this reason, true Christian adherents find it necessary to pray individually, in the presence of God, and also to pray collectively with other believers, forming the body of Christ.
However, I believe that even when we cannot gather together, we can still be united in spirit. Christians are connected not only with other believers in this present world, but also with those who now reside with God in heaven, and with those who will come after us. We call this the communion of saints.
This year, I recorded my SOPP prayer in the chapel of the Xavierian Missionaries headquarters in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, where I live. This is the place where all of the residents gather twice daily, for mass and evening prayers. At the time when I recorded my prayer for the SOPP, only the recording crew was present, yet I felt that I was interacting with all those who would be praying on May 17.
From a Christian point of view, I believe that our prayers bear fruit, because in prayer we ask God to work within people’s hearts and lives, to guide them to conversion in the sense of ‘turning their hearts towards God,’ and to bring them comfort and peace. And as a result, the world will experience healing, peace, and reconciliation. For this reason, I do not feel that this year’s SOPP prayers have any less power than in a normal year. I believe that God, who created heaven and earth, is present everywhere, at all times, and that we can encounter God anytime. Thus, it follows that we can pray anywhere and anytime.
Nevertheless, places of worship such as churches, shrines, temples, and mosques are indispensable to us human beings. One reason is that these are places where we can leave everything else outside and simply be together with God. This is very important.
I think that our current situation presents an ideal opportunity for humanity to return to the correct path. Many people are starting to recognize that we need each other, and that money and material wealth are not so essential. For us human beings, the most important things are life, family, friends, and to love and be loved. God is working within our hearts. The Covid-19 crisis is, I believe, an opportunity for us to learn what we cherish most, and to help each other become better people.
Mr. Mark N. Zion, Associate Professor at Tama University
I am grateful to have been a small part of the SOPP 2020. Also, I am particularly grateful to the Saionji family that has worked so hard to bring us all together in the Name of Peace. It’s a miracle today that technology offers a chance to unite our hearts in moments to pray for the peace of the world.
As we remember this special event, we see that “peace” unites all humanity. It’s the kernel underneath all endeavors, no doubt. If only people weren’t confused about their true intentions!
“Peace,” Shalom, in the Hebrew Bible, may be translated more closely as “wholeness” or “well-being.” The Hebrew greeting, “Peace Be Unto YOU” is more a wish for the other person to maintain “completeness” of being.
Psalm 23, which I read for the SOPP 2020, bridges not only time and place, since people have sung it for thousands of years, but also bridges cultures, even religions. The meaning that Jews, Christians, and Muslims—indeed what all people gain—is similar. Really, it is a prescription for “wholeness” and “well-being.” Here, I’ll review a few of the steps it offers for personal peace in all the vicissitudes of life, even in pandemics when fear easily takes precedence (Psalm 23).
(1) The Psalm of David—David’s song is a melody of the soul from his relationship with the Divine. “My Shepherd” is also related to “Friend.” The Divine is absolute in life and through this relationship we “lack nothing.” The simplicity of this: living life, lacking nothing, with the Divine as one’s center.
(2) From lying down at night and to rising up in the morning, the Divine’s companionship never fails. With trust, we follow the Divine who leads us “to quiet waters, to lie down in lush green meadows.”
(3) “God guides me in paths that are right.” The way may not be direct, often it is circuitous, but this allows for multiple perspectives and visions. “Right” implies “balance,” an acknowledgement that people who may disagree are also on a path of righteousness. All are for the “sake of The Name,” since an understanding of the Divine is furthered.
(4) “Even though I walk through the valley of dark shadows,” a place where nothing is clear, yet we know we can trust even here. And there is no “harm,” only enrichment. The “rod” is for correction and the “staff” is for guidance. But how can both be equally comforting? Both are expressions of the Divine’s presence in everyday life. We can welcome the rod as much as the staff.
(5) “You prepare a table before me in full view of my enemies.” Who are the enemies? Isn’t the enemy really within, our own conditioned responses toward exteriors? “Conflict,” without and within, raises consciousness. We are grateful for these conflicts, for these “enemies,” because these lead us to lush green meadows. The “anointing of oil” in the Hebrew Bible always refers to Messiahship. Here it is empowerment to offer an answer, a perspective, an insight, hope or simply a positive presence when “darkness” seems endless.
(6) “My cup is abundant” the search has ended—the answer is “present,” in the wider sphere the Divine has brought us. “Only goodness and grace will pursue me.” Finally, there’s freedom from fear, from all shadows. “I will dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life.” Every moment is sacred whether in the valley of deepest darkness or in the abundance of light Adonai Yahweh grants. As the rod and the staff, all are equally sacred and comforting.