Good afternoon, welcome and 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 than that when we can see it as a good time to honor all those who have gone into the next world before us. Countless friends to complete strangers have contributed to make this great land that it is today. It is only right that we acknowledge their efforts and honor their sacrifices. It is they that have made our lives more meaningful. Thank you for coming together to let us show them our appreciation.
As we revere our forebears let us ask them to draw close to their descendants alive today. May they draw close to help unite the peace and joy of our hearts with theirs. In this way may we mutually receive Kami's blessings that will enrich us all 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 and die. Therefore it is very important to respect and honor our ancestors with this Memorial Service. Earlier today I prayed especially to honor the Mitama spirits of forebears of those who were close to this Church. And I do believe they were listening to us. They are here with us and I know they must be pleased to see all of you.
Each day, morning and evening, I extend a prayer appreciation to the Mitama spirits that are the foundation of this church. I do this especially diligently during March and September, which are memorial months. I say special prayers after each evening's regular service, and read teachings of my spiritual mentor, the late Rev. Soichiro Otsubo. As I pray to the Mitama spirits I encourage them to continue to develop their peaceful, joyful hearts. I have found great inspiration in the Mitama spirits of those whom I called out during my special prayers.
During my special prayers I also looked back upon our past 15 years in Chicago. I reflected a lot on ways to know this flood of Mitama spirits more personally. Their guidance seems to show what paths Konko Church of Chicago should take from now on in propagating 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 was 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, 1998.
Rev. Kishii Takao introduced me to Mrs. Masae Ogawa, Mrs. Hideko Kubo and Mrs. Shizuko Kushumoto when he kindly came to Chicago from Toronto in mid December, 1998. These ladies' parents had been earnest believers of the Konko Church of Seattle. 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 and joyful hearts through each and 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 and joy in the next world. She always seemed to understand the importance of deepening peace & joy in her heart while she was in this world. I got to know Mr. Tim Ogawa and his family at her funeral.
Kevin, Tim-san's son, entered the Northside College Preparatory High School a year later. The high school had been founded the previous year when my son Mitsunori had become a 1st year student there. Through Kami's arrangement we saw Tim-san and his family again at school orientation and 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 and then our March and September Memorial Services. His family's sincerity and contributions made the establishment of the Konko Church in Chicago possible in 2009.
Masae-san died in June last year at age 90. She was the most meritorious person for KC Chicago and 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 because I know I could have learned a lot from his positive, perseverant nature. I was greatly honored by being asked to conduct Masao-san's funeral service in April of 2010.
I enthusiastically joined the New Chicago Japanese American Association (NCJAA) in 2000 to serve the Japanese American community here in Chicago. It was there I met Mr. Shunjiro and Mrs. Haruko Ohba, a most devoted couple. Shunjiro-san died in January 2004, leaving Haruko-san alone; & naturally, very lonely. Since then Kanako and I have sought to help her in any way we can. Even so, Haruko-san has greatly given a helping hand to us as well.
This year's memorial service marks one of those infrequent, but all too familiar calls to honor the Mitama spirits of a grave, natural disaster. One year has passed since the biggest earthquake in the Japanese history hit near 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. The size of the devastated area is beyond belief. Worse; the threat of nuclear disaster at three Fukushima nuclear power plants not only magnifies the pain of those who survive & extends the danger of atomic radiation years & decades into the future.
More than fifteen thousands people died and more than three thousands people have still been missing. How painful it still is!
Japan has received enormous heartfelt support from many countries. People around the world have risen to support the recovery effort of displaced survivors. Many volunteers have gone to the devastated areas to help the survivors restore their normal lives as much as possible. The survivors too have also shown a strong determination to recover their lives.
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 such as the devastating flood in Thailand last year and the recent tornados in the Midwest in the USA.
At the same time I have sought to understand Kami's blessing through these catastrophes. Konko Daijin taught us, "Everyone around the world is a child of Tenchi Kane No Kami. Everything that happens is Kami's doing. It includes major upheavals."
The disaster victims then, were all children of Kami. Therefore I can hardly believe how much greater the depth of Kami's pain must be. We must hear Kami's sorrowful cry in their calls for help. Our earthly way of living must change sooner-or-later from human-centered living into building Kami-centered lives. A bright future for the human race cannot open until we do.
We humans must come to live in a mutual reliance between Kami and people. Only then, by having a heart like that of the universe; emulating the heavenly, earthly, orderly nature of the universe, will the human condition change. Each human being must come to live a life full of gratitude, in harmony with 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 and joy in human's heart here on earth more and more. That thought stirs up my passion to deepen my peaceful and joyful heart.
I cannot properly express my great appreciation to all these 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 and earth. Let us then add together with them the spirits, past, present and 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 and joy will shine forth from the hearts of all people in this world, together with the power and virtue of all the Mitama spirits who have gone from this world into the next to show us The Way!
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