Patrick and Jacqueline Bencke are ELCA missionaries, sponsored by Faith, serving in Japan.
The Lord is risen! Alleluia!
I have been craving this word, “Alleluia,” throughout this year’s Lenten season. Perhaps more than the word, I have been craving a reason to say “Alleluia.” It has been hard. I don’t mind uncertainty of a path when I know the destination. But when the destination becomes unclear, and the path to get there is unclear, I feel a little wobbly in the knees. Walking a path without a lot of clarity requires a reliance on both peripheral vision, which can feel unreliable, and forward vision, which can seem pretty distant.
I have been feeling a little stuck in the Garden of Gethsemane, a little dark, a little afraid, a little bit doubting, and without the ability to see what the future holds. As we read about how Jesus grieved and begged His father to let the cup of death pass from Him, we remember His pain, His suffering. And then we are able to keep reading, beyond His death, to the story of His resurrection. If we’ve heard the story before, we even know while we are reading about Gethsemane and the cross what comes next, which makes reading the story a little less painful.
We are collectively experiencing the devastation and grief and loss and suffering of COVID-19 right now. It’s so hard to imagine that there will be a time that is ‘after COVID-19,’ when so many of us feel a little bit stuck – stuck in our homes, stuck with a sudden economic hardship, stuck with sickness, stuck with…..whatever is making you feel stuck right now. As I have felt stuck, unable to teach, unable to make music collectively, unable to feel part of something bigger than myself in a corporate worship setting, I have been evaluating my purpose.
In Japanese, there is a word ikigai. While there is no direct translation, the meaning of ikigai lies somewhere in between the French phrase raison d’être and ‘reason to get up in the morning.’ The Kanji, 生き甲斐 , has a rich basis: 生き(to live), 甲斐(to be worthwhile) For folks who like graphs, Marc Winn created this fantastic diagram that depicts ikigai in a visual format:
In Okinawa, a cluster of Japanese islands quite far south of the main islands, serving in a community is said to be a large contributor to ikigai. As many people know, Okinawans are known for their incredible longevity, with people often living into their 90s and 100s. Finding meaning in service is part and parcel to Jesus’ message, and His final act on earth. Service is sacrificial love.
In this time of being quarantined, set apart from one another physically, it is especially hard to serve in our typical capacities. I have found that I have had to actively seek out opportunities to serve, if for no other reason than to avoid the existential void of having no ikigai. And, as Pope Francis said in his Palm Sunday message, “Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society…can be difficult. But the path of service is the victorious and lifegiving path by which we were saved.” He was right. What I can do now, as service, seems smaller than what I was able to do even a month ago. But who am I to place a value on what I deem important, like holding a music rehearsal, compared to knocking on my neighbor’s door to see if she needs anything from the grocery store? What praise is warranted for doing a job for which I am compensated, versus asking a friend to tell me about her journey with cancer, and listening intently?
These days, we share a common grief with 7 billion people. Suffering in mind and body is palpable as we read about and hear about friends, neighbors, countries and communities who are bearing such a heavy load. May we find a moment between our Alleluias today to remember that Christ’s resurrection from the grave and the covenant of our baptism promises common joy with the billions of people who have completed their earthly journey and who call heaven their home. May we remember that we belong to God, and that God is among us when we discover our ikigai.
A student at Luther high school was baptized last weekend during our pastor’s last service with us. Pastor Akiko Nishikawa was transferred to another church, and last weekend we welcomed a new pastor and his family to the Murozono community!
Some of the prayers of our hearts…
Thank you, Lord, for the people of the world who sacrifice or endanger their health and safety in order to come to the side of others. Medical workers, law enforcement workers, emergency workers, and the multitudes of people who support those fields. Bless each of them with an extra measure of perseverance and strength as the world looks to them for help.
Come to our side, Lord, as we make bold and scary decisions about what is the best way to move forward.
We praise you, Lord, for Patrick’s continuing recovery and for Emilie’s diligence in getting all those college applications completed. We entrust Emilie’s future into Your hands, trusting that You will light a path at her feet through Your Word and the whisper of Your Holy Spirit.