This is the first of maybe three blogs that I want to write...we'll see how many entries I actually get through. ;-)
Last weekend was a three day weekend for Japan, Monday being "Sports Day". I hit a Shinkansen Saturday morning and arrived in Gifu Prefecture a few hours later for the All Japan Lutheran Youth Retreat. When I am at my church, I sometimes forget that I can't really speak Japanese, because the people who know me have gotten very good at speaking to me. But when I became the only American in a group of 50, I very quickly knew my lack. But the weekend was a good time of connection nonetheless.
We met at a monastery, complete with vineyards. I've never seen a vineyard up close before, and laughed because I had tried to draw one on the white board only the day before when we were talking about Jesus saying 'I am the vine, you are the branches'...the picture had failed miserably and I had to turn the drawing into a tree instead. But after seeing real grape vines, I realized they really do look kinda like a tree...but that's neither here nor there.
The weekend was a really nice blend of relational time and God connection time. We spent the entire first day building people connections with each other...including icebreakers, which is always amusing when you don't really understand the instructions...I would hear, "blah blah blah stop blah blah two or three blah blah blah introduction" they would say "go", and suddenly all were moving around shaking hands. They shouted out a number, and we all had to get into groups of that many people. When I've played this game before, anyone who couldn't get into a group was eliminated...but this is the land of cooperation, and we had a minor miracle in that when they shouted 3, 5, 7 and 8 we were able to form perfect groups every time. We are all still trying to figure out how that worked.
Saturday night I was so tired from complete immersion that I went to bed at 9:45. Or tried to. People kept coming and checking on me and tried to lure me downstairs by telling me about all the snacks they had...but there is a point where there can be no more Japanese.
Luckily, my Japanese brain had turned on by Sunday morning. I love it when that works. So, I started the morning with a couple really nice conversations. As long as we're talking one-to-one, Japanese really is okay. We joined the Catholics at the Monastery for mass, and it was a really beautiful liturgy. I found myself reflecting during the service how, even though my heart is much more freedom, hands in the air, spontaneous celebration, there is a kind of deep holiness in Catholic masses that I really love. I think Catholic churches and monasteries really are one of the secret pillars holding the whole world up. At least, that's what was going through my mind while I was there.
For lunch on Sunday we made "Rinjin Origiri" or "Neighbor Rice Balls". Basically, we were randomly assigned a partner and supposed to find out their rice ball preferences and then prepare lunch for them. I had made rice balls a grand total of one time before, so I was feeling some pity for my partner, but it turned out he was a young guy who seemed to have about the same amount of experience. We both presented each other with somewhat less than perfectly shaped rice balls and got some smiling and laughing out of the whole experience.
We also got to hand make paper on Sunday, which was really, really fun!
Sunday afternoon we took our discussion about connections a step deeper and got in small groups to look back at our relationship with God and discuss that connection. I had a great small group, but the subject matter was still pretty above my Japanese level. I really couldn't understand the other members, but could tell we were having a really incredible, deep discussion. :-) They had trouble understanding me. But with a little help, some English, and some Japanese I finally communicated a little. We were able to communicate just enough to look at each other longingly...wishing there wasn't this huge language barier in between us and the questions we wanted to ask each other.
Charity arrived Sunday afternoon, and I have never been so glad to see another American in my life. I realized that, even if the two of us are split up way across the room from each other, the ability to pass each other after an event is over and say, "Did you understand any of that?! A little...yeah...I didn't get it either...this Japanese stuff is so tiring!" gave me the energy to really keep at making the effort. Also, there was a girl who had been looking really sad who was always by herself, and being able to tag team with Charity we finally pulled her into the group a little more. Charity is so good at helping people open up!
Monday morning we got to pray for each other in small groups! It was lovely.
Charity, Ken and I headed back home early from the retreat, and I found myself wishing we could have stayed at least two more days. But perhaps we'll see each other around again. :-)