Amsterdam: report by Shinji Kasema

About 60 people participated in our SOPP ceremony at a church in Amsterdam this year. 20 of the participants were members of a girls’ choir (ages 12-18) visiting from Germany. Their presence affected the atmosphere in a special way. Previously, our SOPP was predominantly attended by adults, which in a way had made us very serious and rigid. These young girls, however, laughed when they felt like it, and when they got bored it was very clearly visible to everyone as well. They contributed their honest and straightforward emotions without any pre-consideration or hesitation. Pastor Andreas Wöhle, who organized the ceremony with me, and I had been looking to bring strong emotional energies into the ceremony, and it was present in these girls’ participation. Throughout the whole program, seriousness was mixed with moments of loud laughter in a natural way, and we felt very much ‘at home.’

This year, I wanted to expand the SOPP ceremony to include more and higher quality art. Art can support the concept of the SOPP and give power to the peace prayers. In particular, I wanted to include art that came from someplace other than a religious background. In my search, I met two artists whose attitude and work connect well with my own experience of the SOPP. One is the photographer Wouter van Buuren, and the other is Shusaku Takeuchi, a dancer and choreographer.

The program began with the Dutch Shinto priest Paul de Leeuw, who performed a Shinto prayer at the beginning of our ceremony. We asked all the contributors to join in Tamagushihôten, a ritual of offering a twig with leaves to the Shinto perspective of god. Then, everyone joined in performing a wordless invocation for peace. After that, Shusaku Takeuchi performed his ‘Butterfly Dance.’ Years ago, Mr. Takeuchi performed this dance in front of Mark Chagall’s stained glass windows at the United Nations. We were all moved by its mystical effect and the deep prayer present in his performance. Next, Ann Ferrara and Stella Siu Lie Ang led a prayer from Soka Gakkai Japanese Buddhist group, which included reciting a mantra along with an animated video clip created by Stella.

Our program had started at 6 pm, and after the Buddhist prayer, Pastor Wöhle introduced Agape, a ritualized peace-meal with wine, bread, and simple food. In this case, the meal was accompanied by sushi-rolling, so we called it ‘Agape Sushi.’ The meal was combined with an informal and at times even humorous introduction to the idea of sharing food as core element of constructing moments of holiness in the process of creating and experiencing peace. Especially when people are hungry, eating food makes everyone feel happier and closer to each other.

After eating, Andra Perrin led us in a Qigong practice, accompanied by Naomi Sato playing music on the sho (Japanese mouth organ). The Qigong consisted of simple little motions connected with the breath, to bring positive internal energy into the body. The Qigong combined with the sound of the sho invited us to a feeling of infinity and oneness. After this physical activity, we held a meditation and performed a prayer without words. Then, the girls’ choir sang a kind of spiritually tinted pop music, which in its texts had a sense of prayer and gospel chant. They created a nice balance in their wide choice of music, and we enjoyed it very much. The next element was an improvised performance under my direction, with music and movement, which we called ‘energy tuning.’ Finally came the flag ceremony to pray for peace in each country, and we ended our SOPP with a World Peace Dance led by Zubin Nor. We sang and danced the “Rainbow Race” in a circle around all the flags.

I was very pleased with the way our SOPP ceremony went this year, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve in the future.

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