Last year I spent three days working hard as a volunteer at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America‘s New Years festival. It was a ton of work. And yet, I’m going back this year, for even longer. I’ll talk about why.
While parking cars, we often saw a family arrive. A set of parents, a young child or two, and a grandparent, often a grandmother. They’d get out of their car, and hike down to the shrine. And, honestly, when arriving, some of the adults – particularly the grandmothers – looked a little cross. It would be easy to be that way, though! A long car ride with a couple of little kids can make anyone a little frazzled. When they came back, everyone was smiles. The children were laughing, the parents were happy and relieved, and the grandparents were simply beaming. I suspect they’d had a long-missed taste of home, and a reminder that not everything has changed, and the world isn’t a bad place. They found some peace, some harmony, and some happiness.
That image, of the smiling, happy Grandmother surrounded by her happy family stuck me over and over. Many of the people coming drove for hours so they could share something important with the other people in their families. They were bringing their children, and their new husbands, and forging those shared memories and traditions that mean so much to families, and form the glue that holds people together.
Several of the things I have read discuss how Shinto works to build the community. Japan’s agricultural society only worked when villages cooperated to get the rice planted and harvested. The shrine was a center of the village, and kept people’s lives related. The festivals kept people in tune with what would happen and what had happened. In short, Shinto was a center of community.
The Shinto in my life is different. I didn’t learn Shinto by growing up with it; I ran into it in odd places, and then had to read up on it. Books brought me more knowledge and meaning than feeling. Feeling means going, and being there, and interacting with people.
The Internet lets people communicate, and share information amazingly, but it isn’t the same as being there. Shinto adapts to the times well, in general. Rev. Barrish goes to some length to make people feel connected and included. He does more Shinto-by-mail than I ever expected, or ever thought would work. I’m really impressed by that.
The Internet even lets me participate in a community. I can write blog posts, and respond to people on the Shinto Mailing List, and comment on Green Shinto and read all the things Rev. Barrish posts on Facebook. I can ask questions of all the people in all those places and get back their thoughts and opinions. It is a community, and I’m glad it’s there.
However, it is kind of a remote, diffuse community. It’s easy to lose track of the people behind the text, and sometimes hard to tell a bona-fide expert from someone who’s just talkative.
Standing in a street and waving at a thousand people as they leave is far less diffused. It’s more concrete and more direct. It’s concrete, and it helps people. It spreads that shared experience to a new area, and conveys that we’re all in this together. It reminds me that I’m not one strange guy doing this odd thing no one has heard of. I’m not the only person in five square miles with an omamori in my pocket. It’s affirming, and it’s energizing, and it’s a positive cycle; we energize and support each other.
Right now, I’m in a position to go and to help out, and I’m looking forward to it. I can’t tell if I’ll always be able to, but I can now, and I will. It makes me happy, and glad I can do it.