As we ring in the New Year with the performance of Taiheiyo Church’s Spring Grand service, I cannot help but feel thankful for the efforts of everyone throughout the past year, and for the blessings that we have been shown. But the happiness that we’ve enjoyed, and all the anticipation that this new year brings, is tempered by the unexpected loss of my dear brother-in-law, Junji Maegawa.
Just over a week ago, Junji peacefully passed away for rebirth at the tender age of 55, and we are still trying to adjust to the shock and reality that he is no longer with us. Many of you who attended the New Year’s Day service on January 1st remember Junji performing along side us, and while he was battling a cold, we had no idea things would turn out for the worst.
To the spirit of Junji Maegawa, I want to say, “Thank you for your many years of contribution and dedication, not only at Taiheiyo Church, but also previously at Vineyard Church as well. You will be greatly missed, but you will live on in our hearts. We vow to honor your life by carrying on your legacy of hinokishin, nissan (coming to church daily), and tanno (joyous contentment). May your soul rest in peace, and return to us quickly.”
The Spring Grand Service, performed at Jiba each year on January 26th, commemorates the anniversary of Oyasama’s withdrawal from physical life. Her quiet departure, coinciding with the last line of Song XII at the Monthly Service on that day in 1887, took everyone by surprise. Despite some health issues that had been shown in the weeks prior, She had repreatedly instructed followers that the natural term of life was 115 years, so they all firmly believed that if anyone could live to that age, it would be Oyasama…
Imagine the grief and disbelief that overcame the followers when they first learned that Oyasama had stopped breathing. They threw themselves in each other’s arms and cried as if it were the end of the world, or the end of their own lives. Some may have felt a sense of disappointment, perhaps of being let down. One disciple – I believe Narazo Hirano, who later would become head minister of the first Tenrikyo branch church (Koriyama Branch Church) – exclaimed that he could never go back to his hometown for fear of being branded a liar, because he had been promising everyone that Oyasama would live to 115.
An inquiry was made through Izo Iburi, and God said, “…Because of My love for you, My children, the Parent shortened Her life by twenty-five years to step out and save the world from now. Observe well. Observe well what the path has been and what the path will become…” (Osashizu, 2/18/87; 1/16/87 lunar calendar)
The followers were consoled upon hearing the Divine Direction, knowing that Oyasama would continue watching over them and working for world salvation. A later Divine Direction on March 17, 1890 would confirm, “I am still living here. I have not gone anywhere….It is only my figure which cannot be seen. All is the same. It is only my figure which does not exist.”
So Oyasama shortened Her life to hasten the followers’ spiritual maturity, and to save the world. Not worrying about the police taking Her away, they were free to perform the Service and, within a year, new branch churches began to spring up here and there. Within 10 years, there were 1,300 churches, spread across virtually every prefecture in Japan, and over 3 million followers: one in every twelve people in Japan.
The sudden growth in Tenrikyo was so explosive that the government issued a directive to force a revision of its doctrine and rituals. It wasn’t until after WWII that the 2nd Shinbashira began a movement to restore Tenrikyo to Oyasama’s revelations.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a Divine Direction to let us know the true meaning behind Junji-san’s premature passing. But we can use this knot as a basis for our own spiritual advancement, and to further our performance of the service. We can make a vow by saying: “I will learn how to dance the 2nd half of the teodori, or sing jikata for the seated service.” Or, “I’ll come the day before monthly service to help set up tables and chairs.” Or, “I’ll arrive by 7am on monthly service day so I can help put up food offerings and sweep around the church premises for others to enjoy.” Such would be examples of kokoro-sadame (settling the mind), which we happen to be discussing at Talk Story Mondays this month.
Those are some things that Junji used to do for the church each month, and by continuing to perform in his place, we can keep his memory and spirit with us, far into the future. In this way, let’s turn this tragic knot into an opportunity to have buds sprout and flourish in the years to come.