Using a formal prayer service is controversial. One of the
interesting things about religion in Japan is that--in a country of
group-thinking people--religion is a very individual matter. How,
when, where, and what you pray is a matter of personal choice. So
why have I chosen to harness myself to a prescribed routine?
Like Tevye, I can answer in one word: tradition.
Even though I am a lone pilgrim, I am also participating in an adventure
shared by thousands or millions over the centuries. So I want to
do something in my prayer life that ties me to those people. I'm
sure that Bishop Miyata's service isn't the one that's been used by all
pilgrims; but that it has been used by many is enough for me. At
least I'm not doing something totally free form.
There is still an individual element,
and that is that I haven't been trained in the proper way to chant these
prayers. Here is where the lone pilgrim mentality comes into play.
I remembered today a great story by
Tolstoy (I think). Not the name, the details, or possibly even the
correct author, but here's the gist of it:
On his rounds, a (Christian) bishop
visited a group of three hermits living on an island. They had
never met any officials of the church, and so had never received
So the bishop asked them how they
prayed. And the brothers said (I'm pretty sure of the wording
here): "Thee are three, we are three, God have mercy upon us."
Well, the bishop was aghast. This
wouldn't do at all. So he began teaching them to pray: "Our
Father, who art in heaven..." After hours of work, they
seemed to have it, and the bishop left them with his blessing.
As his boat was leaving the island,
night fell, and the bishop went to sleep. Around midnight, a
boatman woke him with the report of a strange light off the stern.
"What could it be?" they asked in fear. "Let's wait
and se," said the bishop.
And sure enough, the light came closer,
until it was revealed to be: the three hermits running across the water!
Astonished, the bishop asked,
"What is it you want?"
"Well," one of them replied,
"We forgot that prayer you taught us. Could you teach it to
Pondering, the bishop answered,
"No, I don't think you need it. Just return home and pray as
you always have."
(Apologies to Count Tolstoy or whoever
wrote that if I screwed it up badly.)
Anyway, get my point? I'm praying
the best way I can. I hope it will be efficacious, even if it's
not perfectly "orthodox."