The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Afternoon at Kabuki

My parents have been visiting these past few weeks, which has given me lots of different opportunities to run around and do things I don't usually do. We went to a kabuki play this afternoon and evening. Kabuki is a kind of traditional Japanese theater. All of the actors are men, and the story lines are often complex and confusing--even to Japanese people. The point of Kabuki is less about the story and more about intricate costumes, sets, and beauty in general.

Nevertheless, I always find myself quite drawn into the story. What can I say? I enjoy confusing complexity.

The second act was Kyokanoko Musume Dojoji (The Maiden at Dojoji Temple). It opens with a line of monks who are lamenting that they will have to perform some very long rites that day because they are dedicating a new temple bell. But they are a little comforted by the fact that one of them has a bottle of sake they can pass around and another has an octopus they can eat while performing the laborious rites.

Then they are distracted by the arrival of a lovely woman. Bravely, one of the monks approaches her and inquires whether she is a local dancer or an innocent maiden. Learning that she is a dancer, the monks break temple rules and allow her inside to worship, but present her with a dancing hat, hoping that she will perform for them.

The next section of the play is her dance. A beautiful, slow sequence. Attendants occasionally get on stage, pull a few cords off "her" costume, and in one jerk are able to completely change it from one kimono to another underneath it.

In the final transformation, the woman uses magic to cause the new temple bell to fall, and we learn that she is truly a jealous serpent spirit who hates the bell and has come to destroy it. The bell comes down on top of her, and the monks must take action.

The monks suddenly become very pious. They pull our their best prayers, hoping to lift the bell, but it does not move. They confess all their sins and lament their worldliness, merry living, and how their actions have not prepared them for the afterlife. The bell stays firm. Then, they pull out their prayer beads for extra strength, but this also fails. They hear the approach of others, and the monks run away.

The new arrivals are a group of strong men. They use all their strength to pull on the rope to lift the bell, but they also fail. Finally, the bell shakes of its own accord and lifts. The demon serpent spirit is revealed and makes the strong men's weakness known.

At that moment, a lone warrior comes and confronts the serpent. He gives the serpent a choice, be gone immediately, or to end up turned to dust "under his feet". There is a brief fight, and the serpent gives up, acknowledging that it cannot win.

I am always interested to see ways that God reaches to different cultures, and Japan in particular. (I'm just a *little* particular to Japan ;-) ) And from that perspective, I found this play fascinating.

The monks and strong men are powerless against the demon. They need another to fight for them. I was especially fascinated by the expression "turn to dust under his feet" because of the image of Satan being placed under Christ's feet on the cross that is in the Bible. In Ephesians 1:18-23, for example, it talks about the power that we have as Christians and the connection to Christ's resurrection, in which "God placed all things under [Christ's] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church", the part just before that is a little bit more specific about the "everything" that Christ has been given authority over, including "all rule and authority, power and dominion".

The priests of the Kabuki play and even the strong men could not put the serpent under their feet. Their confessions and piety were not enough. Their combined physical force was as nothing.

Today around the world, many are still fighting evil with their own goodness and their own strength. Christians certainly believe in goodness, and as people get a hunger for God, they will necessarily begin to clean up their lives. But there are a plethora of religions out there to help people to be good and strong. If that were all Christianity was, it would have little to add to the religious spectrum. But Jesus has always stood for sinners. Christianity is about a promise of redemption between us weak sinners and the God of All. Christianity is not about good people, but about a Good God who insanely and beautifully lays down as a sacrifice His own self. What kind of God sacrifices the beautiful to save the ugly? How awesome He is!

Being in Japan, I talk to a lot of people who have a positive image of Christians. They see us as being kind, good people. In a way, we have to get past that. Kind, good people run the world over. But there is only one Jesus. And every single one of us needs Him to put the evil within us under His feet.


cinderlee said...

Fascinating storyline (and I don't even like Kabuki!). Wonderful observations regarding the underlying truth that is there. Amazing how God can communicate the truth across centuries and cultures - with or without us. That he uses us at all is just a nice extra, ne?!

Rachel said...

I know this is totally of topic, but why can't story tellers find another "vessel of evil"?! Why is it always the lovely lady that gets picked on! :)

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you're doing well. take care.