Good afternoon, welcome & thank you very much for joining this annual Spring Memorial Service of the Konko Church of Chicago.
Memorials are a time for remembrance. This memorial service is a time to remember our ancestors, of course. But it's even more to our benefit when we see it as valuable & appropriate time to honor all those who have gone before us into the next world.
Countless numbers of these departed souls, from beloved family & friends to complete strangers have contributed to make this great land that it is today. It is those Mitama spirits that have made our lives more meaningful. Thank you for coming together to let us show them our appreciation.
So today as we revere our forebears & other departed souls, let us call them to draw close to us & their descendants living today. May they unite with us to help join the peace & joy of our hearts with theirs. In this way may we receive Kami's blessings that will enrich us all; present & departed, in the future.
Ancestors are the foundation of our inheritance. If we separate ourselves from those roots through neglect, the branches of our tree-of-life suffer & die. Therefore it is very important to respect & honor our ancestors with this Memorial Service.
Just after midnight today I offered special prayers honoring the Mitama spirits of ancestors & departed souls of all closely associated to this Church. I believe sincerely that they were listening to us. They are here with us & I know they must be pleased to see all of you.
I extend a prayer appreciation to the Mitama spirits that are the foundation of this church every day, morning & evening. I do this especially diligently during March & September because we recognize these as memorial months. I offer special prayers to them after each evening's regular service & read teachings of my spiritual mentor, the late Rev. Soichiro Otsubo. This year I have offered these special prayers for much of February as well.
During my special prayers I also think about our past 16 years in Chicago. I reflected a lot about ways to get to know this flood of Mitama spirits more personally. Their guidance seems to show the paths Konko Church of Chicago should take going forward as we seek to propagate this faith into the heartland of America.
About a year after we opened the Konko Propagation Hall of Chicago in 1997 Ms. Masako Nakano moved to Chicago from Japan with her husband Mr. Robert Zabroskey. Masako-san is a believer of the Konko Church of Urawa, Japan. When they arrived in Chicago she began to attend our monthly services regularly. Robert-san suddenly died in September, 1999.
Rev. Takao Kishi introduced me to Mrs. Masae Ogawa, Mrs. Hideko Kubo & Mrs. Shizuko Kushumoto when he kindly came to Chicago from Toronto in mid December, 1998. These ladies' parents, Mr. Shinkichi & Mrs. Ume Nishimura had been earnest believers of the Konko Church of Seattle. Actually 98 years ago on this day Ume-san entered the USA as an immigrant.
When I learned Hideko-san lived near our church, I invited her to join our monthly services. She willingly accepted the offer. Whenever she visited our church, I told her in Mediation to practice faith together to deepen our peaceful & joyful hearts through each & every daily happening. She'd most always reply that it was often very difficult to do so, but that she would do her best.
Almost one year to the day from the time we got to know her, Hideko-san died on Dec. 12, 1999, to our profound sorrow. I believe she now devotes herself to developing peace & joy in the next world. I got to know Mr. Tim Ogawa & his family at her funeral.
Kevin, Tim-san's son, entered the Northside College Preparatory High School a year later after my son Mitsunori had become a 1st year student there. Through Kami's arrangement we saw Tim-san & his family again at school orientation & asked him to join one of our semi-annual Grand Ceremonies. From then on he brought his mother Masae-san & his family to our annual Spring & Fall Grand Ceremonies & then our March & September Memorial Services. His family's sincerity & contributions made the establishment of the Konko Church in Chicago possible in 2009.
Masae-san died in June 2011 at age 90. She was the most meritorious person for KC Chicago & Hideko-san was the foundation of this church.
My wife Kanako & I went to visit the Nishimura's house to meet Masao-san in 2003. When I first saw him with his beloved wife Marie-san I was struck by his expressive, smiling face even though he was confined to a wheelchair. I have been praying for him with a vivid image of smiling sincerity ever before me. I really wanted to revisit them often & would have, but hesitated because I thought it be too much trouble for them to clean their home for frequent visits. So I actually only got to see Masao-san one more time.
I'm deeply sorry for that there weren't more. Even so, I was greatly honored to be asked to conduct Masao-san's funeral service in April of 2010. Three years will have passed since that service. Today we are honoring his third spiritual birthday as part of this service.
In 1999 I enthusiastically joined the New Chicago Japanese American Association (NCJAA) to serve the Japanese American community in Chicago more actively. It was then that I met Mrs. Akiko Sugano. Her sincere wish to serve all the Japanese American Communities in Chicago more effectively lead to establish NCJAA. Her contributions to not only NCJAA but our Japanese American society were tremendous.
She passed peacefully into the next life on Oct. 4, 2012. What I found most impressive about her was her willing thoughtfulness of putting others first. She took great efforts to serve the betterment of the Japanese/American society. She can best be described as, "... one who devoted herself to being of service to people & the world day & night." Today we are also honoring her Mitama spirit in this service.
I also met Mr. Shunjiro & Mrs. Haruko Ohba a most devoted couple at the NCJAA events at about the same time. Shunjiro-san died in January 2004, leaving Haruko-san alone; & naturally, very lonely. My wife, Kanako & I have sought to help her any we could since then. The wonderful thing about Haruko-san is that she has given us a great helping hand in return.
This year's memorial service marks the 2nd anniversary of one of those infrequent, but all too familiar calls to honor the Mitama spirits killed by a grave, natural disaster. Two years will have passed since the biggest earthquake in the Japanese history struck the seashore of the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011. It caused devastating tsunamis sweeping away houses, cars & livelihoods in several areas of NE Japan's coastline. More than fifteen thousands people died & more than three thousands people have still been missing. How painful it still is!
I prayed, have prayed almost continuously for the victims from this Great East Japan Earthquake. I have also prayed for the victims of other disasters throughout the world. It seems that the daily news is full of such disasters like the devastating Hurricane Sandy along the Mid-Atlantic coast in the US or the killings in Algeria & Syria. And I'm sure that like me, all of you were shocked & profoundly saddened by the unspeakable shooting of the first grade children & teachers in the Sandy Hook elementary school, Connecticut. Our founder's following words echoed deeply in my mind: "Though they say the world is becoming civilized, it is not. It is collapsing."
It seems as though we humans; with all our advantages, have not cultivated our hearts from the beginning of human history. Even though we have been aware of the vital importance of the heart, we have not known how to develop our hearts in our daily lives. I've come to realize that it is our sickened & collapsing hearts that are collapsing the heart of the world we all live in.
With such a spirit in my mind; I wrote the following poem:
As we clearly see,
The collapse is everywhere,
Our hearts break within.
May Kami & people be
Fulfilled in this precious world!
In all the disasters I mentioned & the many more we haven't even heard about; all these victims were children of Kami. I can hardly imagine how much greater the depth of Kami's pain must be. But we must re-tune our ears to hear Kami's sorrowful cry in these victims' calls for help.
We humans have GOT to transform ourselves & live in a mutual reliance between Kami & people. Only then, by having a heart in tune with that of the universe; emulating the heavenly, earthly, orderly nature of the universe, will the conditions of humans change. Each of us must come to live a life filled with gratitude, in harmony with the Divine nature of the universe.
I believe those Mitama spirits, who must have felt a deep regret over their sudden death, feel now in the next world the necessity to develop the peace & joy in human's heart here on earth more & more. That thought stirs up my passion to deepen my peaceful & joyful heart.
I cannot properly express my great appreciation to all the Mitama spirits. However, in sharing today's Memorial Service we can help the Mitama spirits of those who have gone before us into the divine virtue & more perfect connection with Kami in Eternity.
Let us reverently honor these precious Mitama spirits. They are our heritage. As they are now, we someday shall be. May we so live that we too become spirits, worthy of being one with Kami.
Let us begin by caring for all those who live with us between heaven & earth. Let us then add together with them the spirits, past, present & future, in a pledge that beginning now, we shall work to create a new era.
Pray for an era in which the Divine Will of the Tenchi Kane No Kami will be fulfilled! May we create an era in which peace & joy will shine forth from the hearts of all people in this world, together with the power & virtue of all the Mitama spirits who have gone from this world into the next!
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