From Our Pastors – August 25

Rev. Megan Berkowitz

Rev. Amy Clark Feldman

Pastor BerkowitzAugust 25, 2023

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted your name and your word
above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me;
you increased my strength of soul.”

Psalm 138:1-3

Leila and I spent three weeks in Japan, arriving home shortly before my first official day here at UCW. We often visit holy sites when we’re traveling, and made our way to more than 20 temples and shrines in the time we spent there. These holy sites were, surprisingly (to me), full of visitors.

I had been told before traveling that Japan today is quite secular, even with the long histories there of both Buddhism and Shinto. Yet, almost every temple or shrine we visited was packed with tourists and pilgrims from within and outside Japan. Not only were people visiting, but they were worshiping: washing hands in the mountain spring, offering a coin, praying while bowed, ringing the temple bell, lighting incense and candles, buying omamori, and hand-copying scriptures in calligraphy.

Perhaps it was exactly these rituals that drew so many to the holy sites. Bowing to a higher power, standing in the same place as a thousand years’ worth of other pilgrims who did the same; purifying with spring water and fragrant smoke; praying alongside so many others, trusting that your intentions will be heard and received – they are powerful experiences of awe and connection.

Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what drew all of those people to the same temples we visited day after day. I do know, though, that just as the Psalmist writes, I was moved to praise God in my heart in all of these places, moved to recognize God’s faithfulness and steadfastness across the generations, and I felt strengthened in my soul. I pray that in the coming week you might encounter some moment of awe and connection, in worship or even maybe someplace surprising, that strengthens your soul as well.

In Christ’s peace,