Amsterdam: report by Shinji Kasema
On May 22, we held an SOPP in an Amsterdam church, decorated with an exhibition of art mandalas. Under the large cross in the church altar, a Shinto shrine had been set up by the Shinto prayer leader, and at the center of the church was a peace pole.
Our SOPP focused on ritual experiences from different religions, starting with a prayer without words from Byakko Shinko Kai, and a shô (Japanese wind instrument) performance, which is connected with Shintoism. After this, the Shinto prayer leader invited God into the shrine he had created. It was an extensive ritual that took more than thirty minutes. Although it ran long, it was so beautiful to see Shintosim merging with Christianity in the church altar. We also received a very purified energy during the ritual.
Next, a vocal group performed Gregorian chants. I experienced the Gregorian chanting with modest, honest vibrations, and it touched me more as prayer than as music.
Andreas Wöhle, the Lutheran minister who co-organized and hosted the ceremony at his church, led his own activity. He handed all of us a stone, and told us that peace is symbolized in balance. If we felt that some part of ourselves was out of balance, we could put it in the stone. Then, when we were ready, we threw the stone in a box and Andreas offered us a purification and rebirth. He welcomed each of us with much love and care. It was a wonderful activity, and people from all different faiths, as well as non-religious people, took part in it.
Then, members of the Sai Baba group performed a Hindustani chant. Sathya Sai Baba passed away in April, and I hoped that he could be with us in spirit. I was so touched by their chanting, I could not hold back my tears, even though I had no previous knowledge or experience of this group.
Next, Mustafa, a Muslim, gave a talk offering us a clear explanation of Islam. And he gave a Recitation, which is like a sung reading from the Holy Quran. He also presented a prayer, which all of us could join in offering. We very much enjoyed his presentation. Then, a Catholic priest presented a prayer, and we could feel his sincerity and solidness.
After this, I gave a spiritual art performance of my own creation, inspired by various spiritual experiences, including those with Byakko Shinko Kai. I think of this activity as a spiritual experiment. Generally, religions cannot experiment with their prayers and rituals in public. But I feel that the public needs more experiences to understand the significance of prayer, and I think that the arts allow for this sort of experimentation. I have no idea if the performance was aesthetically pleasing, but I experienced great joy in doing it, and had a flashback to a spiritual experience I had at Fuji Sanctuary a long time ago.
Then, a group of musicians performed contemporary music on recorder and organ. Because the musicians were behind the church’s organ we couldn’t see them playing, and so it gave a different impression compared with other programs. I felt that the change gave a new dimension to our prayers—they felt more complete.
For our flag ceremony, we placed A4 size paper flags in concentric circles around the peace pole. When the flag ceremony was finished, we stood in a circle around the flags and danced a ‘Universal Peace Dance.’ It was a feeling of pure joy.
In all, the ceremony took nearly five hours. Participants remarked that they felt so much energy, and all of them were glad to help us to clean up after the ceremony.
Later, Rev. Wöhle commented: “It was a touching experience to join with so many representatives of other faith-traditions in an atmosphere of ‘peace as a common goal.’ What impressed me especially was the participation in each other’s rituals, sharing what is closest to our hearts. I wish we would have the greatness to be open to each other like this all the time, and search for ways of praying and working together.”